When the river calls...

It was Sunday morning coming down in Phoenix.  My boss was driving me to the airport.  My wife had called earlier saying they don't think Dad's going to make it; I need to go.  I agreed and headed to the airport to try and catch an earlier flight back to Denver.  My boss and I were talking about the Grand Canyon and a miraculous experience I had backpacking there when the cell phone I carry began to ring...her voice carried two words: He's dead.

Her dad's name was John.  He'd been fighting pancreatic cancer awhile now and lately infections galore had complicated things. Then, this weekend, pneumonia crept in and he was just too weak. The writer Barry Lopez describes your death day as the day "the river calls your name."  Today was John's day.

My wife told me I got to talk to him...they put the phone to his ear and I said I love you, Dad. For that, I am thankful.  When someone dies alone, all they hear is the river and I would think it could be frightening, cold, lonely.  But the river's voice was not the only sound in my father-in-law's ears today; there was also the sound of love.  I love you, Dad.  I am hoping, praying, crossing my fingers, and wishing on a star that instead of a violent surge, the presence of love caused the river to be gentle on his mind.

As I flew back to Denver, she flew out to Arkansas via Atlanta.  She called a few moments ago: We just landed.  I'm safe.  But now that I'm here, it's real.  As our conversation ended, my voice carried four words: I love you, Meredith.  I wanted those words to be the last she heard from me on this long, exhausting, river-run day.

From time to time, I hear the psychological literati skewer that "I love you" phrase, saying if you don't really feel it, you shouldn't say it.  I believe that's about the stupidest damn thing I've ever heard.  You don't say it because you're trying to get the inside to match the outside; that's the vain consistency Emerson described as "the hobgobblin of little minds."  No, you say those words because the river always flows and you never when it might call your name or the name of someone you love or the name of someone you hate, maybe even the name of someone you're still undecided about.  But one of the most precious human gifts we can give one another is to make sure on days like a Sunday-morning-coming-down-in-Phoenix, that if the flood threatens to overwhelm, there is also the presence of love via words, touch, smell, whatever. Love covers a multitude of sins.  I also believe it carries a multitude of sinners into the restless, raging fury they call the love of God.    

     

12 comments:

  1. Wow. Oh the tears. What a day for Mer, for all of you. My love and prayers are covering your family at this time, John.

    May grace fall sweetly upon your family during these next few very difficult days...

    Please tell Meredith that I love her...

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  2. Such beautiful words during such a hard time. I'm praying for Meredith, for you, for your kids, and for everyone who is missing John tonight. God bless you all.

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  3. Your family is on my heart is an overwhelming way.

    Praying for peace to cover Meredith and the rest of your family during this rough and rocky time.

    Tell Mer we love her.

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  4. This is so hard. But you are bearing it with her, John. And because of you, it will be bearable.

    You know I'm praying. Love, gretchen

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  5. John, this post brought tears to my eyes as I think and pray for Mer and the family and as I remember my last moments with my Mom who passed away in December. Thanks for stirring up the emotions that come with loss. May you know of the love and care from friends both far and near.

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  6. Praying for you and your family bro.

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  7. Love also cover a host of sinners when they need it most.

    Steve in Central CA

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  8. great words, greatly needed. got to experience my own version of this the past few months

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  9. My heart is aching for Mer. The river has taken both of my parents so I know this pain of "real" all too well. May the peace that passes understanding fill all of your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

    Praying for you all.

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  10. beautiful post. i'm so sad for meredith. your family is in my prayers.

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  11. I love you and Mer. Holding up a prayer in SC. Grace.

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  12. I'm so, so, sorry to hear this. Grief is a sad, and lonely journey. We are lifting you up.

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