I often tell Casey that if something happened to me, if that obituary I wrote suddenly became my final word on all matters, I would haunt him. I tell him I would leave his wallet out where he would be sure to see it, and his sunglasses too. My spectral self (much lighter, hopefully, than my real self) would perch on his bed and smooth his hair while he slept, would move good memories into his dreams to strengthen him. I tell him I would cause havoc too, whenever possible, just so he can’t forget me.
Last night was our All Souls Requiem, and we crowded into the chancel and it was like playing church; this small congregation walking an entire liturgy together.
Last night my brother actually referenced my writing in his sermon, which never happens, and I was simultaneously alarmed and pleased.
Last night there was this open space in the the Prayers of the People, which came from the rite for the Burial of the Dead. This open space my teacher (who is an Archdeacon and thinks Episcopals could possibly be quiet and reflect a little more) would have loved. It was a time to say the name of your dead, and to remember them. My brother spoke about our grandpa Cramer, what a loving person he was, how good humored and missed. Others spoke, many in tears, but it wasn’t until one of our Latino members spoke in Spanish that the gravity of what we were doing was brought home to us. It is one thing to hear a lament, a prayer in your language, quite another to hear it in another language, the odd cadence of words that you only sometimes can pick out, the way the voice speaking changes as the sorrow intensifies…
My friend lost her husband recently, and she said on Facebook that she is looking for signs all the time now. I can imagine her doing this, how every cloud formation, every random shaft of sunlight becomes a message, and I think this is a beautiful way to live, and a beautiful way to remember her husband.
I think seeing our dead in the random and the mysterious, I think constantly bearing them in mind somehow lifts them up in the place they are now. Sort of like receiving a letter when you’re at summer camp, and the barren waste of a week full of people you don’t know and don’t want to know somehow becomes bearable, just because someone is thinking of you.
My brother was sort of right when he mentioned my writing last night, and of course he didn’t have time to go into the whole theory, but have you ever seen or walked a labyrinth? Because a labyrinth is concentric circles, and the point is that we are walking toward the center. Much like my heavenly campground (oxymoron) is laid out in concentric circles, there is the mouth, where we enter and get checked in and vow not to have loud parties around the fire after 11, and then there are the circles that lead us ever closer to the person of God.
The thing about a labyrinth is that you can’t just stand there when you get to the center. You can’t just hope to be plucked up and out, you must walk the path, back down the beaten dirt road, past the smoldering campfire and ragged tents, back to the mouth and out.
I don’t know what happens next. I can’t get much past the circle with electric hookups and flush toilets in my version of this theory. But I do know that once we have moved in a circle at time, to stand in the absolute glory of an island surrounded by singing beasts with wings, well, we must clamor back into the rickety canoe and paddle back across the misty lake. We must make our way out of the mystery.
I look for signs too, signs of the living and the dead, because I believe in both kinds.
I see a hummingbird and am sure my mother is checking up on me.
I see the twinkle in the eye of our choir accompanist and remember my grandma and how she would twinkle at me in just that way.
I hear my father laugh and am sitting on a wooden swing in front of a campfire that has turned magical colors with the powder my grandpa has thrown on it.
And I hear Somewhere over the rainbow, or just about any hymn, and I am a child and listening to grandma play her piano and sing back the dark in the wee hours of the night.
I thought about my friend Andy last night, how divinely funny he was, how seemingly lost.
I thought about my friend Stefanie, how brave she was, how caring in spite of knowing all to well what laid in wait for her. How she was the best person, how she loved effortlessly, unselfishly.
I thought about my friend’s husband, how warm he was, how funny. What a wonderful and sincere man, and how his family must grow up without him.
And I didn’t dare speak, because desperate prayers and tears are different when they are understood by all, and not a foreign keening for something that can never be again.
Did you know that when Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber’s father died he wrote an entire mass for him? Some of the most beautiful music came from his despair.
Its always the hardest things that make us shine, isn’t it? Always being burned in a fire that turns us golden and warm again. My brother said last night that sometimes he is afraid that he will step into that furnace and when the great iron door is swung open there will be nothing but blackened metal, there won’t be any gold.
I think he is already gold, already tested and already true; but that is just me.
Anyway, whether your grief is expressed in English or in tears, in Spanish or in a dry tone that is holding back a tide of emotion, know that it means something and is important. Know that as you look for signs of those you love being with you still you are remembering them to a God who loves mercilessly, endlessly. A God whose property is to always have mercy.
I had this image of all these people we mentioned last night, and those we were thinking of too. And they were spread out over the darkened nave as we all sat in the lights of the chancel and said their names.
They sat in the hard pews and looked at the stained glass glow and heard the organ play. And I think they pushed back, I think they pushed back love and grace, comfort and reassurance.
Can you see this image? My grandfather in a tie that is falling apart and a suit that is all but disintegrated, with a guitar in its case next to him, a smiling skull, watching the back of his grandson resplendent in gold robes talk about him. I heard Stef’s delicious giggle, as Andy cracked jokes.
Can you see all of them, sitting in the pews, populating our lives still?
Surely they are with us.
I wish you could smell the world tonight, the day was warm and the lake warm still. The world smells like summer and fall all mashed into one, and someone is burning leaves. And the sky is translucent, pearlescent, beautiful.
Surely there is more than one way to be haunted.
I love you still. Even you are just a lump of metal that didn’t turn to gold.