Tag Archives: hope

A long caravan of evenings.

Two of my friends fell asleep in death last week. One was a monk who was buried at his monastery some distance from here, and the other, John, was a member of our parish. His funeral was today, and I was able to attend it.

I’ve written a lot about funerals and death since my husband died, and am at the point where, though I continue to experience grief, these days the loss and its pain primarily show themselves as elements of the same stuff that every single human experiences, we who live as part of this creation that we also live in. The creation that is waiting:

“For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.”  -Romans 8

John had been married to his wife for 64 years, since she was 18 years old. He had suffered great pain and disability for much of his life — his particular “stuff,” but while waiting for his full redemption, he was busy doing good works. Maybe his spirit was groaning for its deliverance from corruption, but he expressed his eagerness in generosity and encouraging words and cooking for people.

I was looking for a poem to post this evening, because I had no good story of my own to share. It turns out there was no poem at hand that would serve very well, but here is one from the archives that reminds us to keep on keeping on, through whatever losses we suffer. I’ll see you in the morning!

PASSAGE

And there was evening, humid
with lightning, when my father

fell to the earth like summer hail,
scattered. I gathered

my mother, we threw in
a handful of pebbles. And

there was morning, bitterly.
There was evening news

bluing walls, violet morning
on thunderheads, and the evening

when morning
would never again light our bodies in bed.

Morning caravans, headlights,
evening. A long caravan of evenings. Then

there was only me, morning. Awake in a room
in a building vast with rooms. Everyone

evening. Everyone morning. And God
had finished all the work he had been doing—

babies, honeybees, spreadsheets, winter
mornings. I said,

I will not stop here, evening. I’ll see you
in the morning.

–Thomas Dooley

I hear the doors clicking shut.

This morning I attended the memorial service for a dear woman whom I met on our first day in this county in which I still live. For some years our husbands were in leadership together in church, and in spite of a notable age difference we couples remained good friends for the whole 49 years leading up to now, when neither couple remains as a couple earthbound.

We used to make these friendship quilts.

Many of the people whom I saw today, I hadn’t seen in more than twenty years, back when we were in the same homeschooling community. In some cases, it took a few seconds for us to recognize each other’s faces that were so familiar, though mysteriously strange at the same time.

As I was driving to the event I began to feel the weight of the accumulation of changes among all of us, especially the losses. After decades of living, we have racked up disappointments, heartaches and traumas. The days we lived back then, whether happy or sad, are not to be lived again. The “loss” of my friend Martha seemed to my melancholic mind a sort of culmination.

But once I arrived it was impossible to retain that melancholy; Martha’s love for God and for us continues to encourage us. Everyone I talked to knows “that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Even the ones among us for whom heartaches are fresh and ongoing spoke of this truth, and of the increases in grace and mercies they have known, and of their Blessed Hope. The last hymn we sang together was “When We All Get to Heaven.”

Friends from back then who are grandparents now.

It’s only been two years since I first posted the poem below, but I wanted it again today. Of course Martha is not a loss. She is one of whom Christ said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.” And as for those heartaches, etc. — it’s not over till it’s over.

EVERNESS

One thing does not exist: Oblivion.
God saves the metal and he saves the dross.
And his prophetic memory guards from loss
The moons to come, and those of evenings gone.
Everything in the shadows in the glass
Which, in between the day’s two twilights, you
Have scattered by the thousands, or shall strew
Henceforward in the mirrors that you pass.
And everything is part of that diverse
Crystalline memory, the universe;
Whoever through its endless mazes wanders
Hears door on door click shut behind his stride,
And only from the sunset’s farther side
Shall view at last the Archetypes and the Splendors.

-Jorge Luis Borges
translated by Richard Wilbur

In a fearful unity.

Czesław Miłosz defected from Poland to the West in 1951. In 1960 he began teaching at the University of California at Berkeley, where he lived most of the time until 2000, when he moved back to Krakow; he died in 2004.

There are many reasons why I have recently wanted to read from the writings of Milosz in several genres. After I had already started on A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of Poetry, which he compiled in his 80’s and which is essentially a gift to modern readers, I discovered that this kind and generous man had been teaching at Berkeley during the years when I was deciding where to go to college. Berkeley was one of my top three choices back then. In the Now, my mind wandered into the land of “What if?” What if I had attended Berkeley and had known Professor Miłosz as a poetry teacher?

Ah, but he didn’t teach poetry. He taught Slavic literature, and many of his colleagues didn’t even know he was a poet, until he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980. So if I had attended “Cal,” I would probably not have known of his existence until now anyway, and that would have made me a little sad.

As it is, the fact that he lived in the Berkeley hills (where my grandmother spent most of her life) for 40 years, and wrote many poems during that time about his experience in and of California and its landscape, draws me to him powerfully. One more thing that links us: his father and my grandfather were both born in Riga, Latvia, probably about the same time. Here is a poem that builds a bridge in his heart from a church in Berkeley back to his homeland and to his dear mother.

WITH HER

Those poor, arthritically swollen knees
Of my mother in an absent country.
I think of them on my seventy-fourth birthday
As I attend early Mass at St. Mary Magdalen in Berkeley.
A reading this Sunday from the Book of Wisdom
About how God has not made death
And does not rejoice in the annihilation of the living.
A reading from the Gospel according to Mark
About a little girl to whom he said: “Talitha, cumi!”
This is for me. To make me rise from the dead
And repeat the hope of those who lived before me,
In a village near Danzig, in a dark November,
When both the mournful Germans, old men and women,
And the evacuees from Lithuania would fall ill with typhus.
Be with me, I say to her, my time has been short.
Your words are now mine, deep inside me:
“It all seems now to have been a dream.”

-Czesław Miłosz
Berkeley, 1985

St. Mary Magdalen Church, Berkeley

Choose a bird.

DECISIONS

Between two words
choose the quieter one.

Between word and silence
choose listening.

Between two books
choose the dustier one.

Between the earth and the sky
choose a bird.

Between two animals
choose the one who needs you more.

Between two children
choose both.

Between the lesser and the bigger evil
choose neither.

Between hope and despair
choose hope:
it will be harder to bear.

-Boris Novak, translated by Dintinjana

“Blue Hope” by Rebecca Wrucke