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.