Going to photograph this bed of tulips I had seen earlier in the day, I noticed that many of the delicate tulip blossoms had been battered by the rain — some were broken, others laid down, still others were cradled against one another. I could not help but draw an emotional correlation with some scenes from the tragic bombings in Boston just a day earlier. And yet the flowers, broken and beaten down though they were, were still imbued with beauty and dignity–infinitely more so the wounded and mourning in Boston. May God bless and keep you and all who mourn throughout the world.
now the sod is like
patchwork from grandma’s quilts; you
sleeping till the day
no longer measuring days
sit still on the sill
Fall has pungency
Like nard. Summer’s fullness crushed
Anoints the late year.
Winter has the scent
Of absence. Nothing. Death. Life.
Shrouded under snow.
Spring is memory.
Fragrance from a walled garden
Calls to the lover.
Summer will not end.
Here at this wedding: wine, bower
Evermore and more.
Please permit another set of haiku-a reprint even, in this case. The pictures will return; I have, in any case, taken some within the last week at least.
I know that poetry should generally be offered sans commentary, but, alas, sometimes I cannot help myself. This set of haiku attempts to map the four seasons to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, with a look forward to the joys of the new creation. In the last two haiku, it also tries to allude to rich sensory images from the the Song of Solomon, which, among other things, is a metaphorical telling of Christ’s inloveness* with his church, his bride.
To be quite honest, even before my father died last week, I have been, and am more or less, in the winter haiku, under the dark drifts of naturalism and doubt, where its seems as if this world and all its toil is all there is and after that…nothing.
And, yet, in better moments, my heart still longs for Spring and Summer after that-for goodness to fill the earth, for justice to reign, for suffering to end, for relationships to be healed, for true understanding between people to arrive, for me to be a whole and true person. It could be that these longings are an anomaly in a meaningless world, but, following C.S. Lewis, I am hoping their absurd existence in the teeth of the temptation to despair means that their fulfillment also really exists.
I want to believe that my father and my mother are…will be. That my father understands the things that knit his heart with sorrow over the last 2 decades of his life. That he now beholds my mother once again, not as his long mourned for wife, but as a strong, beautiful sister. That they can relish their particular shared piece of God’s creative and redemptive work equally along with a billion other pieces. I want to believe that in the light of the Eternal Day, that I am with them, too, at that wedding feast, tasting the wine.
*“Inloveness” is a phrase I borrowed from Sheldon Vanauken’s wonderful A Severe Mercy which I am rereading and which is about many of the themes of this post, including loss and a longing for heaven.
coming home at dusk
leaves sunk into dimness; my
father’s weary voice
coming home at dusk
incandescent greeting; my
father’s cheery voice
Dusk, time in between times, is always a difficulty, especially in the winter months. The sureties of the daylight have sunk and the lights in our homes are struggling to make a beachhead in the dimness. And it is often in this time when we arrive at home, transitions jostling in our souls, as we bump into our dear ones.
The readers of this blog perhaps do not know what my friends and family already do, that this past Sunday night my father, who lived with me, passed away somewhat suddenly. Driving home today, reflecting on the feelings that dusk often brings to me, I thought of the times Dad and I met after long days. Sometimes he would have arrived home ahead of me; sometimes me ahead of him. Sometimes he was worn out and low, walking slowly up my creaking stairs. Sometimes he was still energetic. Almost always, though, at some point he would lift up his head, his face glowing with a broad smile, reach his head up to cup the side of my face and say, “Hello, sonaay betai! How are you doing?” These are the things I’ll miss.
A friend of mine passed along this article to me as my local church community recently experienced the death of a friend and some of our grieving was expressed via Facebook. Our friend did not have a Facebook profile himself, as the very popular girl in the article did, so we did not have that dynamic with which to interact. Also, even though I waited for a good while before breaking the news on Facebook, there were some people who did hear the news via Facebook or email. I am afraid that though that is unfortunate, as the medium does not feel weighty enough to bear or perhaps even deserve the carrying of such news, this is likely an unavoidable reality of our times, just like letters or newspapers or telegraphs or or telephones or radio or television were bearers of such news in other times.
If you notice the progression of media in the last sentence of the previous paragraph (save for newspapers), the technology allows broadcast to more and more people over time. Now the interesting thing with the Internet in general, and social networking media in particular, is that 1) not only the very famous now can have news of their death broadcast to many people (even though newspaper obits did this to some degree), but 2) that many of the people to whom it is broadcast can respond and their responses become part of the broadcast itself. Of course this dynamic is at the center of social media itself and, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. And yet with such personal thoughts broadcast so widely, it should give us such pause with how such communication shapes us and our collective life, yes even our way of being human in some ways.
This line of thinking is similar to an article I just wrote, but is more focused. Now, I am not a Luddite or tremendously old, but still I bring to electronic communication conventions and courtesies learned before its advent. I am very curious to know how new conventions and courtesies are developing amongst those who have always, so to speak, swum in this media. I certainly hope such courtesies do develop, and yet I suspect that any given persons development of these will be, as always, dependent on what they learned in that other little social network, their family, and yet even that network itself cannot help but be influenced by these new media and networks.
At any rate, before I philosophically wandered off, I was commending this article to you. It is a good one.
Earlier this evening I was going to post this picture and was wondering what to title the post. At suppertime, my brother called to tell me that a cousin of mine in Pakistan had died. If you are a reader of this blog or its Facebook mirror, you may have come across the occasional comment from Ivor. Well, Ivor was a cousin of mine from Pakistan. He was better known to our family as “Munna Bhai” or simply “Munna.” In Pakistan, almost everyone has a pet name that family and friends use instead of your real name, and I believe that “Munna” means something like “dear one” or “sweet one” or “cute one.”
Munna had never married, which is difficult in any culture, but perhaps especially so in a more traditional culture like Pakistan. However, he was well cared for by my aunt until she passed and by his siblings afterward. I had a special place for him in my heart, not just because he was my cousin, but because, well, I think we should have special places in our hearts and thoughts in our heads and words in our mouths and deeds in our bodies for those who are alone in some way.
At any rate, this fragile, beautiful flower is now for Ivor, for Munna.
If you pray, please pray for my cousin Anita, who is grieving and sad in Philadelphia and needs her university to allow her to withdraw from classes without penalty to go to Pakistan. Pray for her family when she is away. Please pray for Almer, who is in theological college in London and cannot go home because of his visa status. Please pray for Arshal and Sheena in Pakistan as they receive mourners and mourn themselves.
Now, we may often take our ephemeral electronic communications for granted. Sometimes I am even tardy or utterly neglectful in responding to them. And, yet, every word I receive through email or Facebook, even the silly ones, has a dear soul behind it uttering it. It is helpful to remember that. I am sad and happy that I had incidental contact on Facebook with my cousin, brief notes that I will cherish even more now. Four short days ago on Facebook, Ivor encouragingly wrote to me regarding his eagerness that I take the next step with my photography:
“Oh yes Neil dear, I am sincere in my comments! Your photos do have a unique signature, and an artistic touch. So please do stick to your plan and market them! Make a portfolio in hard-copy first, including your best photos. Then show it to ad agencies without stopping, until you get a contract! You have a good hand with a camera. I wish you all the very best! Keep it up!!!”
May God bless you and keep your soul, my sweet Munna bhai.