In one of those I-can-see-clearly-now-the-scales-are-gone-Saint Paul-moments, the question pealed from his apostolic lips: O death, where is thy sting? In that moment it was not so much question as taunt. I understand, I get it.
But in my part-time-saint-John-moments of late, death's scales have been blinding.
In August, only two months ago now, my father-in-law died. Over the course of a year, damned old cancer stole the gift of his life. Now, two months later, grief, real grief has begun to show up unannounced for the woman I love. Oh, his name was John, same as mine. In September, one of my father's best friends died; again, cancer. This man was the janitor for the church where my father is pastor; it's probable that they saw one another and talked almost every day for 20 years. Only days later, one of my father's favorite aunts died. These September funerals fell on the same day. My parents, mortals that they are, could not be in two places at once; death made them choose their last respects. Now, here in October, just this past weekend, a college friend's little 5 yr old daughter died; doctors are saying swine flu. And then this week, another friend of mine experienced her aged mother finally slip beneath the surface of time.
Annie Dillard gently whispers: Write as if you were dying.
Death has not had a sting lately so much as it has pressed in close, making it hard to breathe. Philosophers of old used to keep a skull on their desks, a daily reminder of our prescribed end, an app for that.
After the funeral-home-visitation for my father-in-law, we all went out to eat at an Arkansas-Irish-pub. It was one of the places John liked. I sat among the family I've been grafted in over the last 19 years; their boisterous Catholic arms have always been open for the quiet Baptist...thanks be to God. I closed my eyes a couple of times and listened to the voices, textures of sound I know well. I kept waiting to hear John's voice, I wanted to hear him yell John David, which is what he always called me, but he never did.
There were a couple of John's earthly trinkets that I was given; one was a Montblanc pen. I'm scheduled for a book signing this weekend at a big box bookstore in Co Springs - Mardel's - the antithesis of an Arkansas-Irish-pub. I plan to use John's pen to sign books for the two or three that will probably gather there. I may have to remind myself to breathe.