All Soul’s Night creeps upon us in new darkness, the sun snuffed before six thirty as effectively as calloused fingers pinching a faltering flame.
Light, then; we’re seeking light.
And we find it, in a fashion. Here in these old wooden pews where the same families have sat for generations with the stained-glass saints gazing impassively from above, already immortal. Here in the scent of candle wax and cool, moist brick. Here in the words, the kneelers, the lovely ritual.
Eternal rest grant to them oh Lord. And may a perpetual light shine upon them.
Ah. Them. Those who have left us. If you’ve lived very long, you have them; if you’ve lived well, you loved them and you probably still do. Everyone here carries this with them. Think about that for a moment – all of us here, suffering that quiet loss together and yet still so alone. I could name you . . . ah well, they’re gone.
My line of work loans itself to the occasional death; my keenest losses are sometimes total strangers, and I don’t know if that makes it easier or harder. I only know that it is. And so, I am thinking of the hands I have held, the comfort I have tried to extend, the way that death slides over a face as implacably as the lavender sky smoothing after the sun has set. I am thinking this when something the priest says reels me back.
“If we live to give God joy,” he says. “Then we live in joy.”
Such a lovely voice, this man – an even and perfect tenor that loans itself well to sweeping statements. He imparts this nugget as though it is ipso facto.
Live in joy.
But no. Sweet October has blown away as quickly as it came, and with it the color, the laughter and the bright expectations. November is as gray and chilly as the Chicago lakefront; it knows no joy. And the dead are – whether by accident or design, holding your hand or not – dead.
Ah, but they’re not. We’re here, tonight, because of them, aren’t we? And don’t we feel them – the caress on our cheeks, the voices in our ears, the little breath of life stirring the downy hair of the child sitting in front of you?
Where they are, they are living in joy.
But it’s bigger than that. The priest is right. If we – all of us here, and everyone we knew – were to go forward in joy from this night on, then our worries, our sorrows, our carefully cultivated grudges – none of these could hurt us ever again. We’d have no room for hurt, or for tears, or for misunderstandings. Joy. Each moment, every breath, etched in gold. The utter certainty of loving and being loved. We could wrap ourselves in that and this fear – this fear of loss, of heartbreak, of dying – would cower in our wake until it finally disappeared altogether.
That’s so big, it’s probably too big for us. But maybe we’re meant to try.
Outside, darkness has set in with a vengeance, the tiny pools of crystalline light from the stained-glass windows fading completely before I have gotten to my car. But I crank Sister Hazel on my iPod, and I sing along, all the way home.
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