It’s been 6 years this week since my son Nathan died. Every year about this time my world gets shaky. It happens almost unconsciously. Each February I deeply offend at least one person by my insensitivity and likely confuse a lot more by my strange behavior. I’m moody and irritable. I feel insecure and really lonely. I drive out to his graveside, park the car and just sit there. Sometimes for 5 minutes, sometimes for an hour, and then I drive on. I don’t think particularly deep thoughts and usually don’t shed many tears. Rather than reflection or sorrow, I think it is quite simply an expression of a longing. A longing for connection, a desire for things to be different, a wish that I could feel free to imagine what might have been – what could be. I don’t imagine though, not usually, it hurts like hell when I even start to. If I begin to think about what might have been the sting of it whips at me and my whole being recoils – it takes my breath away.
I suppose this may mean that I am an emotional wimp. Perhaps it reveals that I haven’t ‘worked through’ my grief. Whatever.
It’s not as if life is not good. Life is real good. I am more grateful today than I have ever been. My wife loves me, in spite of me. I’m confident in her and that is the rock in my world. Aiden will be 4 in April, and he is truly part of who I am, I can’t and won’t imagine life without him. Sydney is only 1 and is so much more than I ever thought a child could be to me. She rocks my world, sometimes I think my love for her is so strong it will hurt her. Life is moving along rapidly and I know that, in this season, this is as good as it gets.
Into that goodness comes February, and along with it, this longing comes calling and the calling is hard – hard to take – hard to understand – hard on my heart. It breaks the regular routine of my life and it fixes in me the conviction that my days, my thinking, my life, are not all there is. This isn’t it. The longing in me points – it comes from somewhere and goes somewhere. I yearn for more than a son that doesn’t die. I want something beyond just having my shattered dreams pieced together. I long for more than an answer to why some babies are stitched up wrong. I’m parched for something that I’ve lost and that I hope someday to find – but I’m not sure what that something is. I grieve for my son who died and at the same time I realize my grieving goes even deeper. I mourn my homeless-ness. I grieve having to live where I don’t fit. I feel so much like a stranger – like I am not really welcome here – as if most of me doesn’t belong in this space and this time. This longing is for something and at it’s most consuming moments I swear I can hear inside of it a faint echo, like a lingering aroma or a shimmering mirage, it is too painful and beautiful to grasp and yet I long for it with all my heart. It is both scary and wonderful and I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t know if this is what Solomon calls “eternity in my heart” or if it is just my hope that it is. I don’t know if my longing is the rumour of another world or just my frustration with who I am in this one. I’m not sure if I’m still grieving the loss of a dream or if I’m being given a new one.
There is an ancient Norwegian legend that says that before a soul is put into the body, that soul is kissed by God and, during all it’s life on earth, the soul keeps a dark, but powerful, memory of that kiss and relates all of life to it. There is a similar Jewish legend that says that just before God puts a soul into the body the soul is asked to forget all of it’s previous life. Just as the soul enters the body one of God’s angels presses the baby’s mouth shut, as a reminder that during it’s earthly life it is to keep silent about it’s divine origins. The little crevice below your nose is the imprint of the angels forefinger, sealing your lips – and that is why, when you are trying to remember something, as you ponder, you will find your own forefinger spontaneously rises and rests in that crevice.
As I stop and park my car I realize that Nathan’s memory awakens in me another memory. One from so long ago that I can only catch a whiff of it. One so old that even if I strain I can only only hear it’s final notes as they fade into silence. One that is at the same time what once was and what will one day be.