Saturday, December 03, 2005

middle of the night

It's 3 am. I get the dog out of his crate -- he hates to be left when I leave -- and we surprise our cats, who at least in their youth were considered nocturnal, but who have as they have aged become committed to sleeping day and night. Nesting in different places around the room, they look up in surprise as I turn on the light, and they show concern that the daily rhythms and rituals of our household are off-track.

I take Franklin the dog outside. He is sleepy, but always up for doing something, anything different. We had a light dusting of snow in the last few hours -- all the sidewalks and the drive are covered in white. The garden is now brittle, dried by several hard freezes, and the last remaining living foliage, the lambs ear, is drooped and shrinking as if its broad leaves were deflated, the air leaking out. I hear a train whistle, but all else is quiet. The lights of houses and street are magnified by the reflective snow and the gray clouds above.

* * *

O death, asked St. Paul, where is thy sting? O grave, thy victory?

For an hour, I lay in bed before finally getting up. Paul's words can be answered. It stings.

I think he knew that. Certainly Jesus did. He said I am the resurrection and the life to Lazarus' grieving sisters, but we are told that he had also wept.

* * *

One cat left the room. The other two are sleeping again. The dog has gotten up in chair and is sleeping next to me. I am awake.

* * *

George Herbert wrote the poem, The Dawning. Richard Webster set it to music, and Mary chose it as one of our anthems for her funeral.


AWAKE, sad heart, whom sorrow ever drowns ;
Take up thine eyes, which feed on earth ;
Unfold thy forehead, gathered into frowns ;
Thy Saviour comes, and with Him mirth :
Awake, awake,
And with a thankful heart His comforts take.
But thou dost still lament, and pine, and cry,
And feel His death, but not His victory.

Arise, sad heart ; if thou dost not withstand,
Christ's resurrection thine may be ;
Do not by hanging down break from the hand
Which, as it riseth, raiseth thee :
Arise, Arise;
And with His burial linen drie thine eyes.
Christ left His grave-clothes, that we might, when grief
Draws tears or blood, not want a handkerchief.
* * *

A cellist played one of Bach's unaccompanied preludes, Suite No. 1 in G major. With the cello and organ, Liz Johnson sang Pie Jesus from Durufle's Requiem.

Pie Jesu, Domine, dona eis requiem. Pie Jesu, Domine, dona eis requiem sempiternam.

Blessed Jesu, O Lord, grant them rest. Blessed Jesu, O Lord, grant them eternal rest.

Choirs sing these words often, but often in a setting removed from the reason they were penned.

In the rehearsal before the funeral, I found myself dry-eyed. We went through the music quickly, and all was fine. And then we practiced the third verse of Abide With Me, singing without accompaniment, leading to the descant on the fourth verse. I cried.

Among the stings of death is the goodbye, is the separation. Folk whom we thought would be in our lives forever, whose reactions to our stories were important, whose gifts were indeed acts of small, suprising graces.
In the service, I made it through the third verse, but could not sing the fourth. And then we began a quiet recessional. At the very back of the church was a solitary clarinet playing Precious Lord and then When the Saints Go Marching In. Mary lived in New Orleans for a time. People smiled as the music gently picked up rhythm.


avril said...

Don, what a wonderful post and one that I needed to read right now. My dearest friend died too young (41) of cancer in early October, only days before the birth of my first child. Max was to have been the godfather. I was unable to travel to see him in the last days but was able to derive some comfort from the fact that his partner of five years was with him through it all, along with his mother. Also, Max had returned in the last years to the Catholic faith of his upbringing and I know it helped him immensely. Still, you are right, death has a sting that surprises one at all the odd moments. The Season is both bitter and sweet in its reminders of this.

Don said...

Thanks for posting, Avril. It's good to hear from you again.

I went to another funeral this morning. The priest talked about we look at death with hope and grief. I guess that is what I was getting at, that it hurts to loose a friend or loved one. And this doesn't seem to get easier as one ages.

Don said...

Oh,I am sorry to hear about the loss of your friend. May he rest in peace, with light perpetual shining upon him.

Anonymous said...

Don, I am sad to hear of the deaths of your friends Mary and Travis. I read "Hands in the Dirt" regularly. I always feel blessed when I do. We are well. Kids have finals later this week, and early next. Hope to see you Christmas.

Don said...

Thanks, Andy, for commenting. I am looking forward to seeing you guys.

lemming said...

"The lights shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

-John 1:5

While those we loved live in our hearts, they live in the world, too.


Rob+ said...

I like the way you wrote this post, looping back upon itself much like life--and death--does. I think it conveyed something important beyond the words as only good writing (well, make that good art --music, singing, painting, and so on can do it too) can do.

May the comfort of Immanuel be with you even as it is with those we love and see no longer.