Monthly Archives: April 2012

A Lament

One of the students at our college recently suffered a truly heart-breaking loss, and I’ve been thinking about her all week, grieving with her as I grade papers and prepare lectures.  My life goes on; hers will never be the same.  I’ve been thinking about what it would be like to receive horrible news on a Saturday night, and go to some upbeat, seeker-sensitive attractional church Sunday morning.  I started to write an essay, but that wasn’t quite right, so I tried again as a homily, which was closer, but still not there.  It eventually wound up as a poem.  I don’t write poetry–not for years now, anyway–and I have a deep conviction that almost all amateur poets are awful.  This is probably awful, too.  But it’s the closest I can come right now to painting the picture I see in my mind.

A Lament

I shouldn’t be here.  There is no place for me here.

The polished plaque is crisp brass,
with letters tall and even:
Sanctuary This Way
Around these words I see my reflected face:
unshaven, dark
I scrape down the hall, clad in
yesterday’s shirt, Friday’s pants.

Sunbeams stretch through stained glass,
making bold the jigsaw shapes of
wine and bread, sheep and shepherd
casting kaleidoscopes on a cool teal carpet.
I sit in the shadows, among the shades.

The drummer keeps a steady rhythm
Guitarists smile and strum.
And Jim, who I once knew in school,
Nearly laughs as he lifts his hands
“Let’s give the Lord a praise offering!”

I am stone.

Around me are the winners of the world,
The beautiful, the well-dressed
And they sing

God is so good
God is so good
God is so good
He’s so good to me.

They sing

You’re altogether worthy
Altogether lovely
Altogether wonderful to me

They clap and shout.
I clench my teeth.

The pastor is telling a football story.
A marriage story.
An old, old joke.
He recounts a scene from a sitcom,
The one about the pretty girl
“But not as pretty as my wife!”
And the lucky guys
“But not as lucky as we are!”

Laughter spills down the aisles.

I shut my eyes.

I wander inside myself
Meditating on horrible, hallowed images.
Twisted metal
Jagged wounds
The ventilator keeps a steady rhythm.

Amen, someone says.

The lucky ones clasp hands, slap backs.
In the lobby, there are coffee and donuts

I shouldn’t be here.  There is no place for me here.
Not today.

I don’t have a praise offering.
I don’t have a testimony.

What I have is mismatched socks
A little whiskey on my breath
And a broken son on a hospital bed
A headstrong, rebel boy who vexes me
And who is more dear to me than my soul
A bruised and battered boy

A boy who can not wake.

But where can I go where someone else knows
What it is like to lose a son?


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Filed under Church Culture, Reflections

To Aidan, Who Is Three Years Old

Hey, kid–

I started this right after your birthday, but it took me more than a month to get it finished.  Sorry for the delay.  Life is busy with the three of you right now.  Plus, I never felt that this quite captured everything I want to say to you.  But it’s close, and sometimes close is the best we can do.  Whatever I say in here about what you mean to me, quadruple that and you’ll be starting to get the idea.

Dad

——-

Dear Aidan,

We are back home in Laredo after a busy Spring Break trip to celebrate your third birthday.  We went up to Cleburne for a few days, where Uncle Kasey hosted your party, which was cowboy-themed.  You decided some weeks ago that you wanted a cowboy hat cake, a choice influenced partially by Woody from Toy Story, but largely by the cowboy-themed episodes of Dora the Explorer, which is still your favorite TV show.  So we made you a cowboy hat cake, and bought you a black hat of your own, and Uncle Kasey provided a big cowboy boot piñata filled with candy.  You might also see some pictures of a badly formed cowboy boot cake, which was a spontaneous creation built from the leftover pieces when we cut the hat shape out of the main cake.  It looks less like a boot than an out-of-fashion stocking, or some kind of orthopedic device, and we never brought it out of the kitchen.  It was worth a shot, but things don’t always work out.

The things you liked most about the party were your new hat, which you absolutely refused to take off, and the rock climbing wall on the playset in Kasey’s backyard.  You had never tried scaling it before, and after making it up a few times with some help, you mastered your technique and climbed it over and over, probably a dozen times all together.  It was the big accomplishment of your day, and really an impressive demonstration of skill and balance from a kid who just turned three. As far as presents go, you were appreciative of everything, but seemed most delighted with the Toy Story car Uncle Kasey and Tia Maria gave you, the toy drill from me and your mom, and the new Chuggington story for your V Reader from Grammy and Granddaddy.  (I hope you remember the V Reader when you are grown–it’s been your bedtime companion every night for a long, long time now.  Like Aletheia, you call it your Kindle, because you read stories on it, like I do with my Kindle.)

Rock Climbing on his Third Birthday
It is difficult on your birthday to avoid thinking about your rough start, your two weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and the weekly physical therapy sessions after your release to overcome your hypotonia.  No one who sees you today–the feisty, fearless, and remarkably nimble Climber of Barriers and Jumper from Furniture Although It Has Been Forbidden–no one would ever guess how fragile you were at the start.  I wish I had known back then, looking at you through the transparent shield of the oxygen tent, your pale skin illuminated by the red blinking lights of the sensors and alarms all around you, that just three years later my biggest worry for you would be that we will have to rush you to the emergency room to heal a broken bone if your play becomes a little too vigorous.

I know that someday you won’t be able to remember these years–strange thought that our three years together will be, at most, a vague impression in your adult mind!–so I want to record a few things about the three-year-old Aidan that the grown up version might like to know.   First, the simple things: in addition to being a very athletic child, you are a very quick learner.  Already you know all your colors, shapes, letters and letter sounds.  You can count to ten well and to twenty with a mistake or two along the way.  I’m pretty sure you have some sight words as well.  For the past several months, you have occasionally insisted on reading your own bedtime stories.  You are and always have been a healthy eater, and even though you have a horrible sweet tooth, you usually ask for nutritious snacks–especially apples.  You have eaten hundreds and hundreds of apples. Your favorite food is probably macaroni and hot dogs, although you also have shown great fondness for pizza, hamburgers, and spaghetti.  At the moment, your favorite movie is Puss N Boots, which you have easily watched twenty times in the last two weeks.  Your favorite books are the collections of Dora stories you inherited from your big sister. It’s hard to say what your favorite toy is, outside of the V Reader.  You love to play “restaurant” with Aletheia, using her kitchen and food toys as you take our food orders, ask for money, and then bring us what we asked for.  You like the little blue scooter you have, also a hand-me-down, and you like to color.  You are also very fond of the toy dinosaurs you have.  In fact, you just knocked on your bedroom door (it’s nighttime as I write this) to ask me to bring you your “T. Rex and ‘Ceratops.” I couldn’t find them, but you took the bad news pretty well.

Now, for the harder things to describe.

You are a natural optimist and encourager.  When someone else starts to get frustrated with a task, you chime in quickly and say “You can do it!” You especially do that for Aletheia–we must have heard “You can do it, sister!” dozens and dozens of times by now.  And you are very quick to smile and laugh.  Last night your mommy was reading you a story with a sad scene in it, and she asked you to make a sad face.  “I can’t do it, Mommy!” you said.  “I’m Aidan! I’m always happy!”  I find it fascinating that perpetual happiness is already a part of your self-image, and you’re pretty much right.  Aidan is always happy.

Maybe because of Aletheia’s interest in space, you are interested, too.  You often point to the wallpaper on my computer, the galaxy background that is the default setting for the current Macintoshes, and say “That’s the Milky Way!”  And there’s a bit of imaginative play that you and I and Aletheia do where we pretend to be going into space.  As it has developed, we start by choosing the colors of our space suits, and you will often come to me and say “Daddy! I’m going into space.  I have a yellow space suit.”  And then you’ll choose the colors for everyone else in the family, even Tessa.

Speaking of Tessa, you are very sweet to her, but I do wish you’d be a little more careful!  That baby has shed a lot of tears because you didn’t notice that she was in the way–but you are usually quick to try to make it up to her.  And I am glad that you never seemed to resent having a younger kid in the house, the way some children do, but have always been very welcoming to her.  You are unusually confident of your own place in the universe, though.  I don’t think something like an extra baby or two would ever throw you off kilter.  And maybe one advantage of being the only boy is a sense that your place in the family is unrivalled. 

I always wanted a sister and never got one, so I’m interested in seeing how you respond to being surrounded by girls in your family.  I always tell people that I think you’re lucky: you have a big sister to give you advice about girls, and a younger sister whose friends you can date.  At the very least, girls won’t be the weird, mysterious creatures that they always seemed like to me.  At worse, they’ll be weird and familiar, which should be of some benefit to you.

But beyond all that, I think what I wanted to say most–the thing I wanted to get down in words before these early childhood years become relegated to faulty, flickering memory–is how much I treasure the boisterous, intensely bonded relationship we have right now.  I wasn’t expecting that.  We especially enjoy rough play–tickle fights and pretend boxing and me swinging you upside down or throwing you through the air onto your bed.  It’s a different kind of play than I did with Aletheia at the same age, and is rewarding in a different kind of way.  You’ve brought a lot of energy into the family, which more than makes up for things like coating your bedroom door in black crayon last week.  Cleaning up some crayon graffiti is a small price to pay for the chance to share a home with a high-energy, endlessly optimistic, bold and daring encouragement machine. 

Your third year of life was a blast, kiddo.  Here’s looking forward to the rest of year four.

I love you.

Dad

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Filed under Personal

“Need is Not Belief”

A friend sent me this poem by Anne Sexton.  I’m adding it to my contemporary psalter for the doubting hearts. “Need is not belief.” Amen.

 

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Filed under Noted In Passing, Reflections, This Is Good