Title kinda says it all. If you’ve read the sister post, you sort of know what I’m about to do. If not, I don’t really know how to explain it to you, so I’m just gonna launch in.
Actually, I take that back. I think this one needs some more clarity.
Although first: hi. How are you? This has been a Tuesday month. I’ve begun to think of my life insanity in terms of what day of the week I actually post on here.
So this has been a very Tuesday month.
But God is good and all’s well. I hope the same goes for you–not necessarily the Tuesday month, but the ‘all’s well.’
Regarding explanations: this one is a little different from the last ones in that the person is deceased. Also in that I am not taking my own perspective, but rather a sort of omniscient narrator.
Basically, I wanted to reflect on the phrase ‘so be it.’
And I saw no reason why not to use for that reflection the person in my life who not only used that as his catchphrase but whose life exemplified a holy ‘so be it.’
Some few scenes (mostly the first one) are imagined rather than known for sure. But all the details (formerly a writer, peach ice cream, rabbit, etc.) and any scenes with specific happenings (say, for instance, the sidewalk) are taken from life.
yes, this character reflection is on my late father.
Come now, why do you weep?
Or why secretly, at least?
Ah, for the tidings you have just received, no doubt. It is hard to hear, “You’re dying,” at 28.
And you—yes, I begin to remember all about you. You have a life, and a place already in this world. A dear wife, three roly-poly babies, a little cottage in the country, a promising career.
Perhaps you’d even begun to imagine the day when you’d pick up your pen, laid down out of love for your dear ones—and yes, I can see, you thought you’d finally write that novel.
How swiftly hope can come crashing down.
And here you sit weeping—secret like. You’ve no doubt told her “all will be well, come what may,” and the chubby-cheeked faces smiling up at you are yet ignorant, not stained with tears. How can it be that you will never see them grow tall? It seems impossible to imagine all that happening without you—and of course, you feel selfish for your sorrow at the thought that life will go on even when your life does not.
So here alone in your corner, quiet-like, you cry out the ache in your heart, salty drops tangling with your yet boyish beard.
This may not be the first time you’ve said it. And it won’t be the last time. But I think, as I watch the crushing burden settle squarely on your shoulders, I hear you whisper, “so be it.”
You have a long, dark road ahead of you, my friend. Keep those words close at hand.
You’ll need them, ere the end.
Hello, friend. It’s been a while since we last talked. You’re looking a little worse for the wear. It has to be a bit muddling to only have the one eye to look out of now—but at least you’ve got your trusty walking stick now. It’s quite a tall one, so you can hook it to your wrist and still stand straight and true, all six feet and extra.
Not too much has changed. You’ve given up driving forever, it’s true; you work from home now, or else some kind soul has to drive you in. And there is a constant, worried undertone of trips to the town…where the radiation does its best, time after time. Swing and miss…swing and miss.
But it’s not struck out just yet, has it?
You still mow the lawn, with your little ones piled in the seat of the mower beside you. You still do the dishes, the dish towel over your shoulder, occasionally waving it threateningly at the largest little, as he laughs and waves his dish towel threateningly at you. You still make peach sorbet with the hand cranked machine, chips of ice mingling with the sweetness of your homegrown peaches on your tongue.
Does it taste bitter to you knowing you have such a short time yet to savor it, I wonder?
The little ones don’t know yet. It makes you smile, I see, to watch them bickering and chortling over their math problems and their novels. The youngest wants to be a priest. The middle a nurse. The eldest is still deciding.
Is it tempting to blurt out a request for him to go ahead and decide, for them to hurry and grow up, while you are still here to see it?
No. As much as you’d give it all to see them grow, they’ll be growing up in a hurry as it is. They already are, even if they don’t realize it. Too often now she has to look after something of yours, and they sit and chortle over their math problems unsupervised.
And soon they’ll have to know.
They go rushing by, in a hurry to play outside, and the dish towel falls from your shoulder to the floor, unheeded. You move slowly to the kitchen table, where your walking stick is propped, and you sink your face into your hands, listening to your children laugh on the porch, unaware how soon their laughter will be quenched.
The crucifix above the lintel offers no words of comfort, but its presence is some comfort all the same.
“So be it,” you whisper into the dreadful emptiness of the kitchen, staring into an unfinished bowl of peach ice cream across from you.
It’s been a few years since we spoke, I think. You look a good bit older now…pain lines in your face, and your dark hair all gone. I see you’ve got two canes instead of just the one. You’re still fastening them to your wrists with leather loops, and you’re still standing straight with them. I do wonder why you must and will stand straight. Sometimes I think you’d be far more comfortable if you let your back bend a bit…curve to the burden, instead of bear up.
But you always were one to bear up.
What is it you’re doing, this fine Sunday morning?
You’ve been to church, I see. And now you and your family have gone into the town to get lunch.
Your wife is off fetching the food, and here you sit in the car with the three small ones.
Three small ones who now know.
You could not tell them.
You could not bear to.
But she told them, when it came down to it. You could not even bear to be present—but when they came charging out of the back room, wailing as only little ones can, to throw themselves into your arms, you held them close and soothed them as much as ever you could.
You had to soothe them then, or it would be too late.
Or maybe not right then…but soon.
But you’re looking a little extra pale now, my friend. Perhaps you should lie down.
It’s hard to do when parked on a busy city street, though.
You sit and try to bear up, but the pain gets worse and worse, and even the innocent whispers of the children are like iron files against your head while you remain upright.
It would be best not to pass out.
So, aching, hurting so much you don’t even notice the passersby, you manage a gruff,
And out you go, to lie flat on the sidewalk, your cane laid beside you, your hand a pillow.
They are watching…well, many people are watching. Passersby are stopping to stare—or sometimes just staring without stopping. Some try to speak to you.
But the only ones watching who matter are the small ones.
You close your eyes—or rather, the one eye left open to you—and try to calm your mind in hopes of calming the hammers in your head.
You know they will wait obediently in the car—but also that they will watch.
And it hurts to think that this may be how they remember you—laid out on concrete, helpless and hopeless.
Not yet lifeless, though.
And while there’s life there’s hope, they say.
And you murmur “so be it,” gritting your teeth, and waiting for it to be over.
I see even the walking sticks are no use to you now.
Time does pass, and with it passes strength. Thank goodness for the modern convenience of wheelchairs, then. Even though you rarely use them anymore, you’ve strapped the walking sticks to the back of the chair, in little holders you made from disposable coffee cups and duct tape. Once a hillbilly, always a hillbilly, and even a dying man can find a use for duct tape.
You’ve had to give up work at last, I see. They’ve named a whole award after you at the Research Council, and they throw a farewell party. A little more sober than a usual farewell party…most employment terminations are not due to the imminent approach of life termination.
Your little ones are beginning to be bigger ones. They have not grown up as fast as you desperately feared and yet selfishly hoped they would. The youngest still doesn’t seem to understand much, although the emptiness in the older two’s eyes begins to wear at your heart.
Whatever’s left of it.
The good thing about dying is it takes a lot of concentration to do it well.
It doesn’t leave much room for idle fears.
You have done what you could. God knows you’ve tried. You have no more to expend, and now it is time to die in peace.
Slowly you while the days away at home, finding yourself often and oftener unable to rise out the bed. You always said you’d die at home, and you seem to have realized that it is happening.
There is still pain yet to be had…of head and heart. The day you can no longer hold the rabbit who has been your great comfort in your illness. The day your little girl comes to you for a last round of the special game you two played, and you are unable to lift the pieces to finish a full round. The day at last when you find yourself unable to rise at all.
But even if you can’t rise, the crucifix is still over your bed. The little bag hung round your neck, with your medals and prayer books, is still there, even though it gets heavier.
And greater still than your sorrow lies the hope of Heaven in the distance.
The last day comes, and you slip into a quiet coma, which ends in its own quietude, insofar as the parting of soul and body can be quietude.
Sometimes I think, my friend, that that coma was your very last ‘so be it.’
And so it goes. Time has gone on since then, and you are many years under the earth. Things have changed since your passing, and not all would be to your liking, I reckon. Perhaps some of those idle fears have come true after all.
But that is not your burden to bear any longer, at rest as you are.
I have heard a few songs recently that have made me think of you, in terms of lyrics. One states:
“…I’m saving time up, just to go out and spend it.
Gonna fly through my life till I crash into an ending.
But I’m gonna get it together
And I hope to live forever. “
When I hear that, and things like it, I think of you, it is true. But less because I think you would have enjoyed them, and more because I can think of songs you would enjoy more.
Even though you, of all people, ‘crashed into an ending’ a little faster than you hoped.
You of all people, my friend, had a right to shake your fist at Fate, at God. A right to resent and a right to roll over and give up.
A right to just lie down and die—not figuratively but literally. A right to wish vainly to never die.
I do not say ‘a right to wish vainly to live forever.’
Because the reason you renounced all those rights, and stood your ground like a man, and stood straight, and stood as long as you could, is because you believed, not in vain, that you would live forever.
Even if you had to die first.
How strong your hope must have been, for that to be a small price to pay, for you to accept it gladly.
For you to still smile, and make peach ice cream, and try to pick up those game pieces one last time.
And I can only hope myself—hope that such hope as yours lasts, planted in the hearts around it, and flowers into something beautiful.
For when it all comes down to it, it’s a cruel world and a hard death to die.
I do not say life is hard, for true life in its God-given form, such as you now live, will be all joy, all hope in fruition, all nimbleness of spirit and casting off of doubts, so that no man there will need a walking stick.
But down here…yes, it’s a hard death to die. It’s hard to “fly through our lives till we crash into an ending”–which is perhaps why you always made use of simpler, lighter songs.
Hard times…hard times, come again no more.
And yet those darned times kept coming for you. And keep coming for all of us.
Perhaps it was the innocence of such lines that kept that spark of hope alight in your eyes. The thought that somewhere, in some land which you had yet to reach, hard times would never come again.
For your gaze was always to the things that last forever, from the time you crumpled up your writing paper and set your face to duty, to the time you put the rabbit in its cage forever.
And in that light, perhaps it was not hard to do as you did.
Our bones are dust in the light of eternity, but so are the aches in them. Our dreams may crumble, but so do our fears.
And some dreams last forever.
Someday all manner of things shall be well, and hard times will truly come again no more.
So be it.
3 replies on “Remember, O Thou Man Week 3: A Lenten Meditation, as sketched out by the Hand of the Artist In A Soul I Once Knew”
Grim, this is absolutely beautiful, and actually made me feel really teary. (There may have been other factors, but this post was definitely a big part of it.) (Rereading the post is making me teary again, though. Dangit Grim!)
I said it already, but the second-person narration, the narrator speaking to the character, is SO POWERFUL and I’ve not seen it done often at all, but I love it here.
All of the details and all of this–your father sounds like an absolutely wonderful man, and it’s kind of making me wish I’d known him? Is that weird?
This whole thing is so vivid in my mind, though. I don’t know how you did that. But it is.
I don’t have words for how beautiful this is, Grim! I’m sorry! You’re just going to have to take my word for it that it affected me deeply.
(And I hope that your months become a little less Tuesday-y!)
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Ah thank you!! Also, I’m sorry. 😦 I….always feel weird when something I create produces a really strong emotion in somebody, especially if it’s sadness. Because, yes, I did try to write this in a moving fashion, but I also did not mean to make pretty much everybody that read it cry.
And it’s one thing to have your more soft-hearted female friends cry, but it’s quite another when the stoic/unmovable female friends cry (you aren’t the only one I’m talking about). And it’s another still when you read it to your closest guy friend, who’s a burly blue-collar with a booming bass voice, and he has a total emotional breakdown and ends up crying on your shoulder. (yes this did happen to me.) And all this is stranger still considering the writer who experienced the thing found herself pretty dead inside while writing it, and didn’t so much as get a lump in her throat.
So yes. suffice it to say, your impression of it is a bit of a common reaction. Both in that it invoked tears and in that it made you want to know its subject (which is not weird of you at all). Had several other people I shared it with say the same thing, that they wanted to know him after hearing it. I’ve been trying to figure out what the difference is with this sketch and all the others I’ve tried to make of him. I’ve actually written a ton of essays/sketches/general musings on him, but none of them have hit the mark the way this one does. I think it’s probably a couple factors: a) this is the first one I’ve written since I’ve learned how to accept his death. As such, I don’t think it has as much underlying resentment of the situation as some of the older ones. b) this is the first one I’ve written from my dad’s perspective. Well, sort of. Second person. It never occurred to me to try before, but as I’m getting nearer his age, and after going through some seriously awful stuff myself, including having to abandon little ones dear to me, I found myself often putting myself in his shoes. I am, after all, often told that I am just like him in personality…so it seemed sensible to have a go at it this way. Esp. considering it’s always sort of hard to write from my perspective since I didn’t grow up enough to know him all that well.
But yeah. There’s a behind the scenes ramble for you. 🙂 Thank you for your kind words. Your comment really, truly made my day. And I’m glad this touched you in some way. My father was a good man. He deserves to be remembered, even if it’s just by me writing some random character sketch on my blog, y’know. God bless you, my friend!
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