This post will appear as a column in the May 30, 2021, issue of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin. I am posting it early because somebody, somewhere, needs this today.
It’s been a tough few weeks. First some close friends lost their son—a veteran, husband and father of two—after a long struggle with mental health and the ongoing impact of combat violence. Another friend lost her mother, and yet another friend lost his wife and mother of his three adopted children after a long battle with cancer. Then I woke to the news that my grandma, Rowena Thorp, had passed in her sleep this morning (Tuesday, May 25) at age 90.
We always experience sadness at the death of a loved one, even if their rest is well earned. We miss their faces, voices, laughter and advice. We sometimes regret questions unasked or things unsaid, and we often wish we could see them one last time.
When we lose someone too soon or to circumstances beyond our ability to manage or understand, the loss can be devastating. How, in these cases, do we persevere in hope?
Yesterday my spiritual brother Mike and I traveled to Perham to pick up freshly-butchered beef we were blessed to buy from Becky’s aunt and uncle. It was about a three-hour drive each way; the meat market was jumping when we arrive, and we also stopped at Disgruntled Brewing in Perham for a pint and Beck’s Burger Company in Staples for a very late lunch (or an early supper). All told, the venture took the better part of the day and evening, by the time we the meat was safely stowed in our respective freezers.
Of course, we had plenty of time to talk. The conversation started with the usual topics these days: the pandemic, the election, the upcoming holidays and how our respective families (immediate and extended) are managing the risk, the uncertainty and the deep desire to be together during times like these.
Our children need each other and us, and we need them.
This morning Facebook served up a memory from nine years ago:
Quote of the Day from poet Carl Sandberg: ” A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.”
September 29, 2011
We were less than three months from welcoming Lily into the world at the time. Today we are almost certainly within two weeks of welcoming our first grandchild. “Baby Boombastic,” as Brendan and Becky’s baby has been affectionately nicknamed by his or her youngest uncle Ben, could emerge any moment, and not a moment too soon.
Oma and Dziadzi cannot wait to meet you, little one.
This past weekend we were blessed to celebrate the wedding of our eldest Engeldaughter, Kate, to her own beloved Brendan (not ours). Jodi and I were the host couple, as Mike and Stacy had been for us last winter—essentially managing the details so the parents of the bride and groom could absorb the graces of the day. It was a great joy to be able to serve our extended family in this way, and for a guy like me, who easily slips into introspection, these duties forced me to raise my gaze and watch the celebration unfold.
On Labor Day weekend, we took Emma to Bismarck for her first year at the University of Mary. The six-hour trek to Mary Hill is becoming more and more familiar: the wide open spaces, green hills and big skies, the sun and the wind…and that one stretch with the bugs splattering like rain on the windshield. The speed zone through Moorehead and Fargo. The bluffs by the James River.
It’s an easy six hour of driving, and it’s getting easier.
When we took Brendan for his first year, I likened the sensation to a taut wire from the back of my mind to him, constantly aware of his absence. When we took Gabe to NET, the feeling was a bit different: First he was just down the freeway in St. Paul, but then he was who-knows-where, living out of a van and crisscrossing state lines and time-zones.
Subsequent years it was better—easier—because they knew people. Faces unfamiliar to us spoke in smiling shorthand to them, and it was clear they were at home (a perception with its own bittersweetness).
But Emma is my daughter, my first girl-baby. And media and internet insist there is so much to be afraid of. And I was a freshman guy once.
I was blessed to spend last weekend on a three-day silent retreat. It was a fruitful time, to be sure, but honestly I’m still sorting through everything God was doing with me there. I am sure to share more in the coming days and weeks.
In the meantime: After the retreat an older gentleman told me that he noticed that I take lots of notes. I explained that for me, writing is how I remember and process information. What I didn’t mention is that I also doodle, draw arrows to make connections, intersperse my own comments and conclusions, and generally wind up with much more in the notebook than was actually said in the retreat master’s talk. Then I add to it between conferences, while praying and mulling over what was said. The page below is an example, an illustration of my “retreat brain” at work (or perhaps play).
Retreat Notes, August 2020
Whaddya think? Is a picture worth a thousand words?
What about a picture of words? A pitcher of words?