Building Jerusalem

Yesterday I took a handful of earth and sprinkled it over Margaret’s grave. It’s a ritual whose insight was born in millennia of human grief, giving hard reality to the shock and disbelief of those first days; forcing confrontation with the black hole of mourning. It was a small outdoor service, with only fourteen of us, and in the midst of wild autumn storms, the rain stopped, and from a deep blue sky the sun shone on the yellow leaves above my home church’s tiny columbarium. 

Margaret and I spent time together last week for only the second time since the pandemic. I brought Eli to visit, and we went for a walk. She gave Eli treats. Her daughter texted me that night to say that Margaret was the happiest she had been in a long time; how excited she was about Eli; how beautiful she had found him. I examined my conscience about why I had not gone to see her sooner, but I am still desperately grateful that we had that afternoon.

Margaret Rose was born in Sheffield England in 1930, a contemporary of the princess who shared her name. Sheffield was a manufacturing town, and when the blitz came, it was heavily targeted by the Nazis. She lived with her family in a block of rowhouses, all sharing a wall with the house next door. When the air raids came, the neighbors would crawl through holes in the cellar walls to huddle together, perhaps trying to get the little ones to sleep.

One morning they emerged from their shelter after a night of bombing and found that the other side of the street—identical to their own—had been flattened. Everyone was dead. 

Her father packed them up and walked the 3 miles to the bus stop so they could stay with an aunt in the country. As they passed through the devastated city, he hoisted Margaret’s little sister onto his shoulders, and told his children to close their eyes so as not to see the gruesome sights of human carnage along the way. “Close your eyes, and take my hand. Trust me.” Margaret peeked, and to the end of her life she was haunted by the sights of her neighbors arms and legs lying disconnected among the rubble. 

She told me she still dreamed of the terror of those nights, the bombs  screaming and exploding, the children crying, the adults bravely cheerful in the face of utterly random death. From the safety of her aunt’s house they watched as the night sky above Sheffield—some 30 miles away—lit up with fire.  Sheffield was bombed nearly to obliteration, and the casualties were overwhelming. 

Life was unimaginably hard. The rubble from the bombings wasn’t cleared away, because there was no one to clear it: all the men were at war. There was a shortage of everything: housing, clothing, fuel, and food. Margaret had a passion for chocolate that may have intensified in the rationing of sugar, butter, flour, milk, eggs, meat, and chocolate. Her mother and father would give her their chocolate ration cards, knowing how much she adored it.

Margaret had a collection of stories, and she told them regularly. She was, in Ray Bradbury’s interesting observation, a living time machine, able to bring to life moments that to me seemed ancient history. As she approached her ninetieth birthday her short-term memory was failing dramatically, but she remembered the past in great detail. Her conversation was sprinkled with her well-worn tales, told anew as to a fresh audience. Each visit, each phone conversation became a ritual of story and repetition, a bit like the comforting ritual of the Anglican Church to which we both belong. At first I was frustrated and inwardly impatient, but she took the same pleasure in telling each time, so I learned to lean back and allow her stories to wash over me, giving her the responses I thought she would like most, even if I’d heard it again only a few moments before.  

She married the love of her life, a British airman, and together they emigrated to Canada, and then to the United States. They loved to dance, they participated in theater. They had a family, with children and grandchildren, and many dogs.

Margaret was a dog lover from her earliest days. She worked as a volunteer at the local Humane Society for years, and inevitably brought more than one home. “I couldn’t live without dogs,” she told me. Her mother had forbidden dogs in the house, and one of Margaret’s stories told how her father had brought home a collie puppy one day, and her mother had made him take it back. “I hated her for that!” Margaret would say with delight at her own naughtiness. As soon as she had her own house, she was never without a dog again. 

After her husband died, we went to church together now and then, when she could no longer drive. It was good to go home to the church and sit in the pews with old friends. Sometimes it was sad to look around and see the congregation diminishing, favorite faces gone forever. 

At the funeral, I sang Jerusalem, that paean to British faith and spirit. It was outside, without the organ, so I stood on the steps leading down into the little brick-pathed columbarium, facing the small cluster of people, my eyes on the trees above them so I didn’t have to see their reactions. It’s difficult to sing at funerals at the best of times, but singing for someone you care about is hard. I made it almost to the end before my voice caught on the last four words. In that split second I saw the priest’s eyes turn to me in alarm, before I gathered myself to finish. 

As I drove home I took a wandering back roads route, revisiting the countryside where I grew up, past the farms of old school friends’ families, past the little waysides I remembered. Here was where my friend and I stopped on our bikes one hot day, here’s where my best friend’s grandparents lived, here’s where the school bus stopped when I came home with her. There’s the stone farmhouse I used to dream of owning. The sky was filled with storm clouds and sunshine.

As I rambled around the narrow back roads a flash of white caught my eye. There was a bald eagle perched on a dead tree, huge and proud. Her mate was circling overhead, perhaps enjoying the currents from the storms. I thought of Margaret’s love of nature, and her oft-repeated story of her father’s Sunday lectures on trees, And I remembered the words of the hymn.

Bring me my bow of burning gold,

Bring me my arrows of desire.

Bring me my spear. O, clouds unfold!

Bring me my chariot of fire.

I will not cease in mental fight,

Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,

‘Til we have built Jerusalem 

in England’s green and pleasant land.

I thought of Margaret’s stories. The love, the terror, the rebuilding, the long walks. The angers and the joys, the frustrations and the consolations. I knew so many of the high and the low points, because she had built the stories for me, unintentionally ensuring I remembered through their repetition. 

She often told me how fortunate she was to still live on her own in a pleasant place surrounded by paths, a lake, trees, and gardens where she walked daily. Her death came suddenly, without lingering, at a healthy old age. It is the best any of us can hope for. And, then I remembered the last line of my favorite Willa Cather story, and a wave of peace washed over me.  

Margaret’s life seemed to me complete and beautiful.

Burial at Sea

A dark red sun rises in a lavender sky, colored by smoke from fires more than a thousand miles away. The same unknown creature makes its intermittent pulsating squawks from deep in the woods until the light comes. The itinerant geese, who have restless nights, have been stirring for some time. The sun light has begun to penetrate the woods in pink shafts. I can see the shadows of creatures moving through the backlit brush. Maybe deer. Maybe coyote. Maybe turkey. A big hawk perches on a precarious branch. All the world reveals itself in morning as it has for millennia, and will for millennia more.

But Margaret is not here.

I got a call yesterday morning, and when I saw the name I guessed what the news would be. She would have been 90 on October 6th. She was my godmother and friend; a survivor of the Nazi bombings; an inveterate dog lover. She called me “lovey”. No one else will do that now.

It seems strange that so deep a change should go unnoticed in the universe. It strikes me anew each time someone I care about dies. It feels to me as if it were a burial at sea, when the one you love dips beneath the waves of time and disappears forever. 

Farewell Margaret Rose. You were beloved.

Insomnia


I have a lot on my mind: an unfinished and recalcitrant book, the usual tribulations of book sales—or lack thereof—a family reunion that includes children, grandchildren, five dogs, and one bathroom at our lake cottage, and a baby shower focused on the joy of the occasion, but whose logistics are complex. In case anyone doubts the (self-imposed) complexities of my life, I have three big dogs whose various health needs have led me to commit to giving them homemade dog food, and the coming family visits suggest that preparing  8 days of dog food in advance might be advisable. There’s a full day’s work, including the scramble to find affordable meat for them. It’s a nuisance, but the dogs are healthy, vital, and unappreciative.

I’m not sleeping well.

I defy myself in my wakefulness: I will not do laundry in the middle of the night.

I just poured myself a bourbon at 2 am, which is in violation of my own protocol, but an emergency method of acquiring some sleep before a day with many tasks.

Even in the depths of the night, the sky here is brighter than the trees, and the abstract pattern of their leaves against the pale night surrounds and engulfs the house. I lie on the couch in our library and am consoled by the sky. The dogs breathe; Pete, fast and shallow as if he is racing; Moses, deep and sonorant.. Both follow me in my restless wanderings through the house, and we share our love and our wakefulness. Auggie, in his youth, sleeps through.

I found Pete around midnight, curled up in an odd place on the kitchen floor. Yesterday morning I found him lying among the piles (no, mountains: two houses, visitors, bed linens, beach towels, clothing) of sorted laundry, far from his sleeping family. I wonder whether he seeks solitude, or whether he is actually lost: befuddled by deafness and blindness.

Pete has much joy in life. He eats with gusto, he runs and romps. He protects his interests. He polices his younger brothers. But he is an old dog, and his quiet demeanor means he is easily pushed aside by the exigencies of the moment, and each day I resolve to spend time with Pete that is only his. Each day I fall short.

Whose kid is playing booming bass on his car stereo at 3 am on our sleepy rural road?

I get up to start a load of laundry.

I am awake because my dreams were of my father’s death: explicit; agonizing. I rose from our bed and went to where my stirrings would not disturb my hardworking husband. Moses smells my tears and licks my face. I tell myself that my troubles are small. The world is filled with tragedies and pain, and my life is easy, rich, and full. But still, it is an act of will to find the right messaging for my troubled mind. I have a good life, it’s true. But even so, grief holds hard on a heavy heart.

Lost and Found

Shortly after my mother’s death, about three years ago, my sister gave me a gift: a pair of earrings she had had made from my father’s monogrammed sterling silver cuff links, still nestled in cream velvet in their original oval purple velvet box. I was touched and delighted by them, excited to wear them, and to have this keepsake.

One winter afternoon, I wore them for the first time, and went shopping with a friend. We had fun, wandering from one shop to the next, and spending a fair amount of time trying on hand-knitted hats. I guess our ears were cold.

It was about an hour later that I realized I was wearing only one earring. The mood of the afternoon was instantly altered. I tried not to show how upset I was, reminding myself that it was just a thing. We retraced our steps, I went through all the hats, gently shaking them, and looking for something caught in them. I crawled on the floor of the shop. Hopefully, I left my name and number with several of the stores we had been in, but I never heard from anyone. It was gone.

I never said anything to my sister. I put the one cufflink/earring away in its ancient purple velvet box, and promised myself that someday I would have it made into a necklace. But I felt sick at the loss.

Yesterday was my birthday, and although I try hard to be grateful to be having a birthday, I spent the day fighting off a case of melancholy. I felt the passing of time, the shortening of the horizon, and a soft, persistent nostalgia for my late parents. Don’t misunderstand: there were cards, and gifts, and flowers, and phone calls, greetings from friends and strangers, a snowstorm, and best of all, an advance copy of my new novel in the mail. Nevertheless, I spent the day in an uncharacteristic lethargy, unable to accomplish much of anything.

Toward the end of the day, though, I bestirred myself to straighten our dark, cozy library for the evening. I had recently redone the room as a surprise for my husband, and had emptied the shelves and cleared all the surfaces before and after I painted. The little brass tables had gotten wiped and polished, and even the bottles on the bar cart had been dusted. I oiled the wood. On Friday, our cleaning lady went over everything again, so it all sparkled.

I lit a fire, and some candles, I put on my favorite Beethoven piano sonata, which reminds me of my father’s last days. Feeling both sorrowful and affectionate, I began stacking the week’s collection of books, papers, to make some room on the table, when something caught my eye. On the table—the table I had emptied and polished twice in the past week—was a small oval silver shape. It was an earring.

Unbelieving, I went to my bureau where the purple box was kept. The one earring was in the box. The other was in my hand.

I immediately texted my cleaning lady. Yes, she had found it in the couch, and forgotten to say anything.

But here’s the thing. In three years, the house has been cleaned many times. The couch has been vacuumed at least every other week. There is a perfectly rational explanation for how the earring got there. But it feels, to me, as if I had a visitation, and I can’t help but believe that on this melancholy birthday, as I listened to the music that brings him so vividly to mind, my father reached through the weave of time. Warmed and happier, I wore the earrings last night, ate cake, and drank champagne.

Wisdom tells us not to put too much value in things, or to choose mysticism over reason. But sometimes when we don’t expect it, everything shifts, the lines can blur, and the momentary mysteries we see instead make life’s realities both rich and beautiful.

It was a happy birthday.

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Souvenir

My mother outlived my father by several years, and when she died, my sister and I faced the sysyphean task of cleaning out their house. This included going through my father’s shop in the basement and in the garage, where he did everything from making wooden lamp bases on his lathes, to machining new parts for his car, to carrying out scientific experiments. I’m fairly certain that he never threw anything away. Nothing.

For my sister and me, each decision to keep or discard bore an emotional weight that devastated us both. It took some months, and we were weary in heart and soul both during the task, and for a long while after. Frankly, it would have been much easier for us if my parents had followed the modern art of “tidying-up”. But if they had, so much would have been lost.

The word souvenir comes from the French: a thing that makes you remember. And, perhaps that is what exhausted us so much: every little item we found had a memory attached. My mother’s battered ancient fruitcake tin, where she kept her needles, pins, and thread, and which was always hidden under her chair in the living room. My father’s homemade work aprons that had so often been our gifts to him on father’s day or his birthday.; his navy insignia; his little leather notebooks where he kept lists of books he wanted to read, recordings he wanted to buy, the names, ranks, stations, and bunk numbers of everyone on his ship during World War II,  poems he wanted to remember, a recipe for applejack eggnog.  Even my grandmother’s things were still enmeshed in the collection: her vanity set; her hair ornaments; her love letters. My sister dissolved into tears one evening when we had finished. “I feel as if I am throwing Mom and Daddy away.”

But the reality is that we couldn’t keep it all. So painstakingly, emotionally, and exasperatedly, we combed through the house as if it were an archeological dig. And, in a way, I suppose, it was.

Among the things I found was a dirty metal file box with little plastic drawers for sorting diodes, resistors, and transistors and other early electronic parts. The box had stood on my father’s workbench for as long as I can remember. At the top was my name, printed out in the same style as the labels on each drawer.

I remember the day my name came to be on that box. I was about three, and my father had received a new gadget in the mail: a label maker that used long flat spools of plastic to impress letters on. It was an exciting thing. I remember my father showing me what it did by painstakingly printing out the letters of my name, and then pasting the result at the top of the box.

Seeing that box on his workbench, years after his death, brought me fully back to that moment. I remembered the smell of cut metal and wood, the difficulty of seeing the top of the bench unless I were given a little stool to stand on. I remember my pride in seeing my name on the top of that box, and mostly, I remember being loved as clearly as if I had been embraced.

There is a–by now–somewhat aging trend in the world of home interiors known as “tidying up”. The process, which is a method of decluttering and living a minimalist life, has an almost spiritual quality, in that it claims it will change your life, and its adherents have the tone and enthusiasms of Nineteenth Century evangelists.

Dad's diode caseThere is a vaguely moralistic and superior tone taken by these doyens of home organization. They are the new Puritans. No one needs stuff. No one needs other people’s stuff. It is clutter. It clutters your home and your life. In this age of materialism, when we all have bulging closets, attics, basements, and enough stuff to create another entirely separate household, people’s interest in the process is perfectly understandable.

But, had my father not kept his old things–radio parts that were no longer needed by any working radio–my memory of the label-making would have been lost to me, for there would have been no material thing in the world to remind me of it. That moment would have been lost to me forever.

This is the value of things, perhaps, even, of clutter. It is memories that make us who we are; which haunt us; which enrich and warm us; which remind us of how to be better. And the things, they are the memory triggers. They bring back the moments we might have forgotten in the depths of time: of my mother in her kitchen, or cutting off a button thread with her teeth; my grandmother combing her hair, of picking her up at the bus station and sitting next to her in the car, touching the softness of her fur coat; my father listening to opera at high volume while he worked on his car. These are moments that form us; that make us ourselves.

I will admit that I have kept too many things. We jokingly refer to our garage as “the home for wayward chairs.” I have much of my parents’ good mahogany furniture, their wing chairs and their china cupboard. I have my grandmother’s vanity. I have all my father’s designs, and the paperwork for his one hundred twenty-something patents. It is a lot, and it can be overwhelming sometimes.

But I’ll take clutter any day. It is the price of remembering how it felt to be a little girl who was loved by her father.

Tidying up, indeed.

 

For Ruth: A Remembrance

To everyone else she was Barbie, but since my mother called her Ruth, we did, too. I don’t even know why.

Our Aunt Ruth will be buried on Friday in a rural cemetery in upstate New York, and we will not be there. She, my sister, Eileen, and I had discussed this. She was quite clear that she didn’t want a fuss: no funeral; no flowers. So, as we all agreed, we spent our time and efforts while she needed them.

We were with her on her 95th birthday. On her 96th birthday we couldn’t come until the following weekend, so we sent her 96 roses, and combined with all the other flowers she received, her tiny house was so filled with flowers there was no place to set a coffee cup. I didn’t make it for her 97th, but I took a small comfort in knowing that Eileen and her children were there.

Aunt Ruth’s 95th birthday, with her great-nephew, Jeff

Eileen, living nearer, visited Ruth more frequently than I. We made little visits together that always felt like pilgrimages, and I wept so often after saying good bye, thinking it would be the last time, I think I got complacent. It almost started to feel that she would always be there. But last week we held her in our arms as she took her last breaths. As we drove away from the hospice, I kept looking around me at the familiar landscape, thinking I would probably never come back. After a lifetime of trips to that cluster of little towns on the Hudson, it felt very strange. It was the end of more than her life. It was the end of an era in my own life, and the end of my family’s history there. The shadows of my aunt’s and my parents’ young lives, of their hopes and dreams, and the young lives of their parents, all left behind, with no one living there to meet them and remember.    

When a celebrity dies, there is always a flurry of remembrance, while most of the rest of us disappear into obscurity. But in the end, it doesn’t matter whether you are famous, and it doesn’t matter whether you are perfect.

Ethel and Ruth approx 1924

Ethel and Ruth, circa 1924

What matters is that you craft a life with what you are given: you make friends and lose them, you have your small pleasures, your personal triumphs, and your private tragedies.

It matters whether you did your best to struggle through, whether you were kind sometimes, whether you were generous sometimes, whether you handled your troubles with as much grace as you could muster, whether you found some love, and gave some love. These are the things that give our lives meaning. And these are the things that deserve tribute, and remembrance, and a prayer.

Barbara Ruth was an adventurer.

Like my mother—her sister—Ruth was vibrant, enthusiastic, adventurous, and headstrong, stubborn, opinionated, and extraordinarily difficult. And let’s be honest: she took great pride in being difficult. Apparently, it’s a family trait.

But she also had great love. She adored my Uncle Ken, and he adored her. They endured terrible tragedy together, but they always had each other. Not in a fluffy, romantic way, but in a difficult, holding it all together, we’ll get through this kind of way. They had grit.

They travelled extensively throughout the United States and Canada, and they seemed always to be having fun. They once surprised me by appearing in Halifax Nova Scotia, where a ship on which I was working as a singer had docked. They were so pleased with my delight at seeing them.

During World War II, on her way to Seattle to meet her husband’s ship, Ruth was the survivor of a notorious train wreck. She decided not to go to the dining car at precisely the right moment. Many passengers died. She walked away.

Ruth in hat
Ruth could handle a gun, and she used to hunt and trap with her father to feed their family during the depression. She was a gifted seamstress and knitter, and until she lost her sight near the end, made countless caps for preemies at local hospitals, and beautiful, intricate baby sweaters, and booties, and caps. I gave the last one to someone only this past summer.

When I married, she made me a full trousseau of dishtowels and placemats with matching napkins, and crocheted tiny white lace snowflakes and beaded icicles for my Christmas tree. I still have them all—even the dish towels.

When Aunt Ruth’s first husband, our Uncle Ken, died suddenly after many years of marriage, Eileen and Ruth and I went up to their little cabin in the Adirondacks together to empty out the remnants of their life together. As a remembrance, Ruth gave me one of Wedding to KenKen’s plaid flannel shirts, over whose torn pocket she had patched a red felt heart. I gave it back to her on her 95th birthday. She hadn’t known I’d kept it, and she cried with delight to have it back.

She fell in love again at the age of 80, and married another lovely man, Al, who was both generous and kind. We have a picture of her and my mother on the night before the wedding, their arms around one another, laughing. Ruth was as beautiful as any younger bride, so filled with happiness. The rain came down in buckets, but it didn’t matter.

To her sorrow, Aunt Ruth outlived Al, too. They only had a few years together.

My mother and Ruth were both beautiful young women, and like the princesses in the fairy tale, one was blonde and the other was dark. As she got older, Ruth was proud that her blonde hair had no gray in it. Last week at her bedside, as Eileen stroked her head, she reminded Ruth that even at 97, her hair was still blonde.

Eileen viewed Ruth as a second mother, and she was closer to Ruth than I. But when my mother was alive, Eileen and I split our duties. I was close enough to help Mom. Eileen was close enough to help Ruth. We were so grateful, though, to have one another last week during the ordeal of Ruth’s death. Neither of us could have endured it alone.

Barbara Ruth Rabie Hajeck, née Cornes, died August 15, 2017. She was 97 years old. She was born in Watervliet, New York on April 15, 1920 to Edna and William Cornes.

Extraordinary Hat

Ruth in an extraordinary hat.

She was preceded in death by her son, Keith, her brother, William, her first husband, Kenneth Rabie, her sister, Ethel Riordan, and her second husband, Alton Hajeck. She is survived by a daughter, Susan, a granddaughter, Paula, and a great-granddaughter, Nora Kate. They are also strong women.
She was also loved by her extraordinary friends, Randy Anselment, and Laura and Tim Plumway, who, beyond all call of duty, were a blessing to her in the last years of her life.

This tribute comes at Eileen’s urging. Aunt Ruth did not want an obituary, but since Ruth didn’t always do what she was told, my sister and I are following her example. We come by our stubbornness honestly.

Ruth is the last of her generation in my family. My father and mother have already been gone, it seems, forever. For my sister and me, she has left another gap in our hearts, another hole in the landscape of our lives. She fought, she loved, she created, she struggled. And in this eternal and sometimes merciless universe, she mattered. Her loves mattered. Her struggles mattered. Her fierceness mattered. Her sorrows mattered. The people she lost matter. The lives she created matter.

We loved her. We love her still.

We will miss her always.

 

 

 

Small Bursts of Grief

It’s a perfect summer day, and we were walking back to the cottage after a swim.  I asked my husband: Do you ever find, right in the middle of a normal day, that you feel a sudden burst of grief for your parents?

He didn’t even look back. “Well, it is Father’s Day.”

My father, Hugh Riordan, and my mother, Ethel, while they were dating.

My father, Hugh Riordan, and my mother, Ethel, while they were dating.

 What follows is the eulogy I delivered at my father’s graveside. My dad never lived to see me as an author, but I know he would have been proud of me. That’s what fathers do.

I miss him every day.

It may seem a little strange to find a Brooklyn boy here in a remote country churchyard. Daddy was a man of sophisticated tastes, well-travelled in the world. As a boy, his mother took him every Saturday to the Metropolitan Opera. In his early years, he rode the subway every day to school. But there was always a rural thread in his life. Brooklyn was farm country in the 1920’s, and he spent his summers in Mill Rift, Pennsylvania, a small town with rushing falls and gentle mountains, and several vacations he worked on a farm.

I have always been proud of Daddy. Proud of his intellect, his accomplishments, and his dignity. I have never known anyone else like him; he knew the answer to every question, he could fix anything, he remembered everything. His interests ranged from science to poetry and music. He is literally the only person I ever met who read Einstein for fun. When he was recovering from his first major illness, we knew his brain was undamaged when he commented on the Monet hanging across from his bed.

He was a brilliant engineer, whose inventions advanced technology, saved lives, and helped in the defense of his country. Above all, he was a man of impeccable integrity. That is a rare thing.

I am indebted to him not just for his love and support of me throughout some of my more wretched moments, but for the gifts he gave me. Almost everything I love in life, I learned from him. From Daddy, I learned to love music and literature, to care about reason and rational thinking, to value education and languages, to be a patriot, and to love freedom, and perhaps most important, I learned my insane passion for dogs. I guess we all did.

When Brian and I were talking this morning, he reminded me that for all Dad’s affection for his Mercedes Benz–a car he cherished, coddled, and fiercely protected from the rest of the family–he drove it into a ditch and wrecked it to avoid hitting a groundhog on the road. He was not a demonstrative man, but he was tender-hearted. He loved to be hugged, and beneath his quiet mask he was extraordinarily affectionate.

Of all the places he had lived, he loved Wisconsin best. I think it was partly because the German culture seemed familiar to him, like the households of his German grandfather and uncle, and partly because he admired the simple integrity of the people here. He liked farmland and the animals, and he saw cities as places that corrupted lives and culture. For all his accomplishments and education, he had no pretense or snobbery. He was a good man who lived a simple, honest life. And it seems exactly right that he should rest here, among settlers and veterans, underneath tall trees.

My father, H. E. Riordan,  and his favorite dog.

My father and his favorite dog, Rudy.

 

And the earth stands still

I found myself in the position, recently,  of explaining Holy Week to someone who does not believe. Perhaps a bit too earnestly, I tried to describe what happens: The triumph of Palm Sunday with its awful portent, the congregation taking the part of Christ’s accusers, facing-whether we want to or not–our own sins; the washing of the feet, and the ritual vigil, kept with Christ throughout the night on Maundy Thursday. On Friday, the awful full-eyed clarity of the torture and agony of the crucifixion, and then at last, the breath of life gone, the Pascal candle extinguished, the altar stripped, and the deep internal stillness of grief hanging over the congregants.

We are all diminished by every death. But this one death is ours and His. The fear of it lingers in our hearts as we wait in hope.

It is Good Friday. And the earth stands still.