Day five of my 30-day writing challenge.
All things aspire to weightlessness,
some place beyond the lip of language,
Some silence, some zone of grace,
Sky white as raw silk,
opening mirror cold-sprung in the west,
Sunset like dead grass.
If God hurt the way we hurt,
he, too, would be heart-sore,
– Charles Wright. “Poem Half in the Manner of Li Ho.” Black Zodiac.
Yesterday, on Father’s Day, my mother took white petunias to my father’s grave. He has a marble stone that says “Vietnam” on it, even though he spent his time in the army in Alaska.
My father died just over 22 years ago now, and my mother has been re-married for almost twenty, and she still misses and mourns him. I don’t think I have the license, or even the knowledge, to talk about what she felt when he first died, but I know that she still tears up when she speaks about him for more than a few minutes, and that anniversaries and birthdays are still edged with sadness.
Wright’s poem is uncannily similar to some lines I wrote when I was in training to be a college writing teacher. We were practicing personal essays, and I can’t remember what the prompt was, but I wrote about my father’s decline from a brain tumor – how one of the things that it took from him was language. He first lost certain words – anomia, it’s called – then login codes for his computer (he was a programmer), then struggled for sentences. By the time he slipped into a coma, he had lost his grasp on language entirely.
In my essay, I wondered – as I still do, sometimes – what that was like for for my father to gradually have stolen from him symbols and syllables that once seemed as simple and obvious as his own name. To know exactly what was happening and yet be unable to do anything about it.
What did my father know, in that realm beyond language? I posed that question in my essay, and although I don’t remember if I used the word “grace,” I think that was the concept I was striving for. I hoped that even if he didn’t have words – even if whole swaths of his experiences and memories had faded to gray – he had access to something real, some truth to hold onto. I know that he knew that he loved us, and we loved him, because “I love you, too” is that last thing I remember him saying, past the time I expected him to say anything at all.
It’s unclear whether Wright’s speaker is expressing doubt or belief in the idea that God can “hurt the way we hurt.” Perhaps he feels a little of both. But I believe in a God that does hurt as we do. I believe that God yearns over creation like a mother yearns for her children to be well and whole and happy. I think that there is something in God that is unappeasable when any of his children are suffering. I think he grieved, and continues to grieve, with my mother. I think he cried tears of rage over the unfairness of my father’s illness. I think that there is a part of God that will never be fully satisfied until every part of his creation is at peace. And I think this is one of the deep consolations of the Incarnation – that Christ, in his full humanness, knew what it was to lose, to experience physical and spiritual torment, to have people let him down, to have things he just could not fix.
I believe that we are never alone in our anguish, no matter how deep and dark the silence. And that, too, is grace.