Growing up in the desert taught me to look for beauty and wisdom in not-so-obvious people and places. These are my reflections as I try to live into that lesson in my family, in my church, in my politics and in the world.
A couple of weeks ago, I bought myself a potted Amaryllis bulb at Trader Joe's. Gayland used to give me one on or right after my birthday, figuring it would be open for Christmas -- and it nearly always was.
The Greeks called these beautiful flowers Amarullis, which means “splendor” or “sparkling.” Even the unopened bud is very shiny.
The Greek poet Virgil wrote that this stunning red flower once was a shy nymph named Amaryllis. She fell deeply in love with Alteo, a shepherd described as having Hercules' strength and Apollo's beauty, but who paid attention only to his plants and flowers. He did not return her affections. Heck, he didn't even notice her existence.
Hoping that she could win him over by giving him the thing he desired most - a flower that had never existed in the world before - Amaryllis sought advice from the oracle of Delphi.
Following the oracle's instructions, Amaryllis dressed in maiden's white and appeared at Alteo's door for 30 nights in a row. Each night, outside his door, she pierced her heart with a golden arrow, causing blood to fall to the ground. Finally Alteo opened his door. There he beheld a gorgeous scarlet flower, sprung from the blood of Amaryllis's heart.
Well, that got his attention. He got his unique flower, Amaryllis' heart was healed, and she got the object of her desire. One hopes they were happy with the bargain. One also thinks the oracle was a creep.
Today, the amaryllis symbolizes pride, determination and radiant beauty. Other sources say it symbolizes success, strength, and determination.
I say it should symbolize the lengths to which some besotted young women will go to catch the attention of an oblivious male.
For me, it's a sweet echo of gifts of beauty from my absent love. This particular Amaryllis has put out two shoots, creating an absolute spectacle of itself. Gayland would have loved it.
Sable has adopted it as her own personal stage setting, sitting beside at every opportunity because she knows its bright red enhances her sable beauty.
It IS gorgeous. Looking at it makes me smile through my tears.
We humans like to mark time off in significant chunks -- a birthday, a holiday, an anniversary. I guess we think it gives us some control over things -- one of the many things we kid ourselves about in life.
Yesterday, December 11, was the anniversary of his death. A year. Three hundred sixty five days without him.
The presence of his absence still is enormous, filling up most of the space in my life. I maneuver through and over and around it, but still, it can suck all the oxygen out of the room in a nanosecond. It ambushes me multiple times a day as I live and work and have my being in this space we created and occupied together. He left his mark on every square inch of this place I call home, so while I love it, and it is indeed a refuge, it also exacts an emotional toll.
This manifests in seemingly irrational acts, because inanimate objects become sacred holders of memory. Silly things, like two juice glasses in the dishwasher.
There they sit, the two cleanest juice glasses on the planet, because I haven't been able to move them from the place he last put them. Every morning he would pour juice for us, mine in the glass with the red ring, his in the glass with the yellow ring. They were the last glasses remaining from a set of eight that he bought years ago in one of Neiman Marcus' "gifts under $25" sales ( he loved those sales). Every day after breakfast he would rinse them off and put them back in the dishwasher. He did so that last day at home. And there they have remained. Not being used, but getting washed regularly. Silly. Like I said, grief can make you do things like that.
Earlier this year I wondered what it would be like, a year out from his death. I hoped it would be easier, that the pain would lessen, become more bearable. And I guess that has happened to some degree. But there are times the grief still is so raw it's as if he just died. I find myself angry -- angry that he's gone, angry at the many physicians who failed to diagnose a damn urinary tract infection that eventually became septic and killed him, angry at a medical establishment -- a world -- so ready to write off a man becoming increasingly frail because, hey! he's nearly 80.
The rage is huge and a little scary, so I try not to inflict it on anyone else. And I try to direct its fire into work that might make the world a little better. God know there's lots of that work around.
Anger and grief use up a lot of energy, I've discovered. At the end of the day, I am often just done, able to do little more than sit in my chair and hold a book. Sometimes I even read the book. Sometimes I watch TV, although often I discover I have zoned out and missed significant chunks of the show. Thank God for rewind.
Motion is what gets me through the day. I move from one task to another, one project to another, one hour to another. I am grateful for generous colleagues who have been willing to abide with my distraction, to put up with some missed deadlines, to be flexible on the days I can barely move.
I am most undone by the kindness of people -- the flowers close friends sent yesterday, the quiet glances, the prayers, the notes.
Because the grief is still right there. Right under the surface of my composure, lurking. And the season isn't helping much, calling forth memories with every emotionally laden holiday chore.
What does help is that The Episcopal Church is in the season of Advent, a time of reflection, preparation and anticipation. Virginia Theological Seminary offers #AdventWord, "a global, online Advent calendar. Each day from the first Sunday of Advent through Christmas Day, #AdventWord offers meditations and images to inspire and connect individuals and a worldwide community of believers to the themes of Advent. You can stay up-to-date by signing up to receive #AdventWord emails here, visiting AdventWord.org, and following the project on Facebook and Instagram."
The AdventWord for today is #Rough, a reference to John the Baptizer saying that "'the rough ways will be made smooth' in preparation for the coming of God."
I am intimately familiar with the rough ways - my very soul has been abraded by the harsh emotional winds of this last year. Grief still resides in my throat, making it impossible to sing, or even say some prayers out loud.
The #AdventWord for December 11 was #Go.
But I have no idea what comes next, for grief isn't a tidy linear process. It follows no rules, listens to no rational explanations, heeds no timeline, schedule, or plan. It is the shadow of the Holy Spirit, blowing where it will, when it will, taking no prisoners.
Today is our 27th wedding anniversary. And for the first time, I wasn't awakened with a kiss and an "Happy anniversary, my love." There were no flowers with my coffee, no chocolates by my plate, no small package waiting to be unwrapped, no him hovering in happy excitement. He was such a romantic.
Today also is All Souls Day, the day we pray "for all those whom we love but see no longer."
It was important to Gayland that on the day we wed we also remember his deceased parents, Mattie and Mart, his brother Larry, and his 8-year-old nephew Jeffrey.
While the loss of his parents was hard, the untimely deaths of Larry and Jeffrey in an automobile accident was a life changing moment for him. When almost overwhelmed with grief and loss, he determined to live a life centered in joy and love of God, and it shaped his life and his ministry from then on.
Now that they are all together again, I remember them all, along with my parents, Judy and Alan Sherrod. And while part of me wants to spend the day in bed under the covers, tonight I will be attending the world premiere of a Requiem for the New World, a piece commissioned by Trinity Episcopal Church here in Fort Worth. It is unusual in that it is in Spanish. The young composer, Nico Gutierrez, sang in the Trinity choir when he attended TCU.
Tonight's Requiem is part of the All Souls Day liturgy. It will be presented again on Sunday as a concert. They are making a recording of it, which is good, because I believe all the tickets for both evenings are gone.
Music was such an important part of our life together, and I find it unfair that I can barely listen to music any more without it laying waste to my emotions. I have no defenses against lovely music. Whether I make it through this entire evening remains to be seen.
But still, I am trying, my love. I am trying. I am trying, as the poem below says,
to do what you would have wanted, to give what's left of you away.
By Merrit Malloy
When I die
Give what’s left of me away
And old men that wait to die.
And if you need to cry,
Cry for your brother
Walking the street beside you.
And when you need me,
Put your arms
And give them
What you need to give to me.
I want to leave you something,
Look for me
In the people I’ve known
And if you cannot give me away,
At least let me live on in your eyes
And not your mind.
You can love me most
Hands touch hands,
By letting bodies touch bodies,
And by letting go
That need to be free.
Love doesn’t die,
So, when all that’s left of me
Give me away.
The rains came, and the purple sage bloomed. He always loved the sage.
There's so much to talk to him about. The wisteria bloomed! In August!?! A particular former bishop announced his retirement. A hawk landed outside the round window and then drank out of the bird bath, giving tiny heart attacks to every bird in the area. Robert Mueller is getting convictions. And our grandsons are both in high school (!) a fact that would have made him grin ear to ear at those beloved boys.
And you know what surprises me? That I can still be caught by surprise when I turn to tell him something. That the grief is still so raw, so painful.
It's been eight months and 10 days since he died. It feels like it was this afternoon.
I guess I believed those who said it won't go away but it will get easier. And yet here it sits, hunched just one thought away behind my veil of composure, ready at any moment to take my breath away, fill my eyes with tears, make my chest fill with pain.
I've gotten really good at disguising these attacks, at turning away or going silent or concentrating really hard on something else until I regain control. But when I'm alone it always wins, leaving me weeping from the force of the longing for him.
So I just keep moving. I made through General Convention, even though every time I walked out of the House of Deputies and he wasn't there waiting for me, smiling and saying, "Hello my love," my heart hurt. And oh, he should have been there when I was honored by the president of the House of Deputies, Gay Jennings, because the work that was being recognized was made possible by his support, his wisdom, his having my back every minute. He would have loved it!
I made it through vacation in Hawaii, the vacation he bought and paid for the spring before his death.
And I am surviving going through his office, although I can only do so much at a time before the emotional toll is simply too much to bear. He and I had talked about other ways to use the building his office is in, because as he got more frail, he worked there less. He always loved playing with ideas for new uses for old spaces.
But remember, we are talking about a space Gayland Pool occupied for many years, so every. single. cubic. inch is filled with stuff he kept -- books, art work, photos, books, letters, cards from people he helped, people he married, people who loved him (thousands of cards), files, books, prayer cards, prayer books, hymnals, and more unidentifiable things than you can imagine.
And I have to go through it all, because his filing system was, well, very unusual. I found the title to his car in a file marked "pets." See what I mean?
And art work! What wasn't on the walls was stacked against the walls.
I found the brochure about the walking tour of historic sacred spaces that he helped create.
And more political banners, bumper stickers, tote bags, and other items from the causes he supported than you would believe.
He gave money to every progressive cause that helped women, children, minorities, the vulnerable, the environment, and animals. He loved the ACLU. He was a life member of the NAACP.
And his sermon materials. Oh my. File after file for Year A, B,and C. Fifty years of priesthood wrapped up in notes, sermons, and more notes.
And that's all in the first room . . .
So please pray for me. For stamina, for wisdom, for patience, for discernment of what to keep and what to let go, for, well, for making it through to tomorrow without this beloved maddening, funny, wise, smartass, courageous, caring, creative, disorganized, energetic, and loyal man.
Last year, when Gayland began failing, I kept getting phone calls from Westin Resorts, saying they needed to talk with me about my Westin vacation. It sounded like a sales call, so I would just say, "I don't have time for this now," and hang up.
This went on for months. Gayland got sicker, and then he died, and my world just shut down to trying to make it from one day to the next. But these calls from Westin kept coming.
Until finally, on Valentine's Day, I said, "What is it you want?" And the woman told me that in the spring of 2017 Gayland had bought and paid for a 5-night, 6-day stay at a Westin Resort on Maui for two adults and two children under 18 and I needed to schedule it before the time ran out.
In a daze I listened to her explain that it came with a rental car and a $75 voucher for use on the resort and I needed to schedule my stay soon. I explained to her what had happened, and she immediately extended the deadline until September. After the shock wore off, I consulted with my daughter and we selected a date.
So on July 16, my daughter, my two grandsons, and I flew to Maui, courtesy of Gayland's Valentine's Day gift.
It was wonderful. It was heartbreaking.
He and I had stayed on Maui twice, most recently five years ago. Almost every day, he would say, "We have to bring the boys here." And I would agree. He was especially pleased to find a cafe in Lahaina called Da Kitchen, which he decided was Da's Kitchen (the boys call him Da).
When the plane took off I was almost overwhelmed with the sense of loss. His absence was so huge I could hardly breathe. He would have so loved to be there with us. He loved swimming in the ocean and he and the boys would have become waterlogged together. He would have snorkled endlessly with them. He would have loved watching them at the aquarium and urging them to try new foods. He would have loved their reaction to the volcano, to seeing all the new variety of birds and plants and all the colors the ocean can be from one minute to the next.
So I know he was smiling at their antics in the ocean and loving their having this time in a beautiful place. We came home full of new shared adventures and experiences.
They did love it, my darling, just as you knew they would. But it would have been so much better with you along.
When you've lived with someone for 26 years, there is a lot of stuff involved -- and a lot of photos stuck here and there.
So yesterday, as I was cleaning, doing laundry, and trying to get ready for General Convention in Austin, I happened to open a drawer in Gayland's bedside table.
And there was this photo.
This is Gayland with his beloved dog Esau. I am convinced it is a photo of their reunion in heaven.
Esau was a foundling, like all our dogs. Gayland found him lost and wandering on Meadowbrook Drive and brought him home. He left me a cryptic voice message that said, "The little hairy man and I are home, waiting for you." So I arrived home from Channel 13, where I was working at the time, full of curiosity. And fell in love with Esau.
Esau was indeed a little hairy man. He was -- it turned out -- a loose coated wire-haired dachshund. Who knew that was a thing?
But what a precious thing. He and Gayland bonded at once. Gayland had never had a dog that was just his. They had had family dogs, but Esau was totally HIS. They adored each other. Oh, Esau loved me too, but it was clear I was a distant second to Gayland.
In 2012, while we were on a trip to Sicily, someone left a gate open, and Esau and another dog got out and were killed by a car. Another of our dogs was badly injured. We came home to this news, and we were devastated, Gayland especially so. The loss of Esau was huge.
A few months later, we got two more wire-haired puppies who had gone soft coated, and we loved Ms. Wiggles and Toby, but they weren't Esau. I don't think Gayland ever really got over that loss.
So I look at this photo, and I smile. I know Esau was waiting for Gayland and greeted him with squeals of joy and wiggles of delight. Rusty was there too, and Molly and all our other beloved dogs who went on ahead.
Of course they were. For what is heaven worth without dogs?
When the longing hits, it's a full body experience.
It can be triggered by driving past a restaurant we liked, walking into church, seeing friends he loved, seeing an art exhibit he would have found interesting, coming home from a party. . .
The longing is so intense it takes my breath away. Just today I almost had to pull over to the side of road to catch my breath because it was so intense. All from passing a church where he served.
This weekend I met my new grand nephew for the first time, and as I drove home, all I could think about was how Gayland would have loved him. Gayland loved this baby's mama from the first time he met her as a little girl, and he was overjoyed with the news of her pregnancy. He would have loved seeing this baby boy's beautiful hands, and would have marveled at his composure at being surrounded by all the Sherrods -- something even Gayland found overwhelming at times.
Waiting on a vote at General Convention in Philadelphia, 1997
This week, as I get ready to go to the General Convention of The Episcopal Church next week -- this is the governing body of our church that meets every three years -- I miss him so much it hurts. For years we went to Convention seeking to change things in this diocese so women could be ordained priests here, and LGBTQ Episcopalians would be loved and welcomed in all orders of ministry. He paid a big price for this advocacy work, forced into early retirement by a bishop who couldn't do anything to me, a lay woman, but could go after my priest husband. The financial hit from that was a big one, one that remains with me, but Gayland never regretted our work.
Our partnership strengthened both of us, but certainly me. I found the courage to take on the church governance because I knew he had my back, that no matter what happened, he was there with and for me, even if he was back at home taking care of everything there. But he always managed to come for at least part of Convention to be with me. He was my strength and a lantern to my feet. Going to convention alone feels so wrong.
And now as I look down, I see all the dogs have gathered by my feet, and the cat is curled up next to my keyboard. This always happens when I write things like this. So here we sit, one very lonely human amid five animals, all of us missing him.
The other day I was watering the garden and right in the middle of the walk, as carefully placed as if by plan, was a small stone in the shape of a heart.
A broken heart.
It stopped me in my tracks. I picked it up, turned off the water, and walked over to the pergola and sat down to contemplate it.
It is a tiny thing. about the size of a nickle. But its impact was huge. Because I had been telling myself I was doing really well.
I was lying. My heart is broken. I am in the most familiar of places and yet I recognize none of it. Without him, all is foreign, all is strange, meaningless.
I am lost.
The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. you must let it find you.
"Lost" by David Wagoner
From Collected Poems 1956-1976
"Wherever you are is called Here, And you must treat it as a powerful stranger, Must ask permission to know it and be known."
That is how I reply to people who ask, "How are you?" I say, "I am here." But Here is indeed a powerful stranger, unknown territory full of mysteries.
Last month his will was probated, a legal procedure so dry and formulaic that it made me want to scream, "Stop! What he wanted mattered more than these muttered rote words and scripted replies in a courtroom. He is not just one more 'case' come before you. He was wonderful, beloved, delightful. Can you not see that the whole world is diminished without him!?"
But of course one does not act that way in a courtroom when one is just a bit player in a minor legal drama that just happens to deal with the death of a beloved husband.
So now I am officially his sole heir and executor. He had already made provision for others to be cared for, so his will was very simple and straightforward. Now I am tasked with inventorying our "estate," a word much too grand to encompass our eccentric and very personal creation of a home. How am I supposed to put a dollar value on our life together? For that is what it feels like I've been asked to do.
I have sat down again and again with all good intentions to start this task and end up walking away again and again, helpless before the impossibility of it. Yes, I have found deeds and records and all manner of documents, but I can't seem to go much beyond that.
So I wander outside and watch Raven and Wren in the garden, although my Raven is actually Crow. Yes, Crow has taken up residence here this spring, and unlike the busy noisy wrens, he is a creature on a schedule. He comes to the pergola fountain at the same time every day to drink, scattering any loitering squirrels and daring my dogs to challenge him. They just act like they haven't noticed him. He perches on the bubbling top of the fountain and boldly drinks without even looking around. He doesn't care if I am sitting three feet away watching him. When he is done, he looks directly at me, and we eye one another in silence for a time. Then I tell him he is beautiful and he bobs his head at me, and takes off over the pergola, crying his raucous challenge to the skies.
Odd how I have come to count on those encounters. I sit and watch the birds, and the lizards and other creatures who share this space with me and wonder if they notice how different it is without him. And I wonder if grief is making me a little bit mad. A good friend who has endured a huge loss herself told me to call her whenever I needed to ask if I was crazy or not. Now I know what she means.
Grief does create a mad space in one's life, a space that makes no sense, a Here that is a powerful stanger, one that may or may not give you permission to know it.
My beloved was born on April 23, 1937. So Monday was a hard day.
Because every year on our birthdays we would begin the day the same way. The one who was not having a birthday would ask the other, "How shall we celebrate your birthday?"
And we would then explore increasingly elaborate ideas -- go out to dinner, go to a movie, go to a Broadway show, book a cruise, go to Mexico, go to Italy.
But we each knew what we would end up doing -- having dinner together here at home. In the garden usually on his April birthday, in front of the fireplace on my December birthday.
His birthday dinner in the garden 2015
Because nothing, absolutely nothing, was as much fun as just the two of us together in a place we had created together, eating and drinking and talking and laughing.
Daisy wishing her daddy happy birthday in 2015
He was among the smartest people I know.
I so miss his wit, his observations on the day's happenings. He was generally kinder than I am, but then, a lot of people are. Conversations with him were always interesting, challenging, and just plain fun. He taught me so much, and stretched my world view in so many ways. He was so widely read -- and I swear, he retained it all.
He couldn't remember to pick up the stuff I asked him to get at the grocery store, but he could remember something he'd read ten years ago in a Nikos Kazantzakis book.
A thousand times a week I think, "I have to tell him about . . ." And then reality intrudes.
I so miss our conversations, my love. I know you are probably having a wonderful time tracking down all the writers whose work you loved, but I wish you were still here. Things are more than a little bleak without you.
You would have been 81 years old on Monday, but those numbers truly mean so little when I think of you. Your vibrant spirit, your wit, your charm -- they were ageless.
So on Monday, I set up a gofundme account, the Gayland Pool Memorial Outreach Fund to raise $10,000 to carry on the ministries you were so passionate about through the work of the congregation at St. Luke in the Meadow Episcopal Church. We've raised nearly $3,000 of it so far.
It's helping me get from one day to the next. Because it's damn hard.
This is the time of day when I miss him most - early evening, when the day is drawing down and we both would stop whatever had kept us busy that day and turn to one another for companionship and conversation.
He would make me a drink and -- if the weather permitted and it nearly always did - we would head out into the garden. The dogs knew this routine so well they would meet us at the crossing in the walk -- are we going to sit in the pergola or in the Chapel Garden? When we would tell them which, they would tear off ahead of us, thrilled to be outside with us, knowing we would be playing with them, talking to them, laughing at them.
Daisy and Sam still look at me this time of day when I step outside -- are we going to spend time out here together, their eyes ask?
But I just can't. Sitting in the garden without him is so meaningless, so arid, so devoid of contentment that when I do sit outside I end up weeping, and the smaller dogs end up huddled around my feet, with big dog Booker putting his paws round my neck and embracing me in his distress.
I worked all day yesterday in the guesthouse garden, and when I finished, dirty and exhausted, I realized I had already turned to call him to come see how it looked, to come have a drink with me there while we enjoyed it together. But he isn't here, and the joy in the beauty of the space drained away, and it became just another job among many to finish.
I know the dogs worry about me. When I collapse in the garden weeping, they pile all over me, upset and trying to figure out what to do. I suspect if it weren't for them, I might end up curled up in a ball out there. But they are here, and so I don't end up that way.
Instead, I walk into this oh-so-empty house, wash my hands, wipe my face, and try to figure out how to move through the next few hours until I can fall into blessed sleep, where, for a few hours in treacherous dreams, he is still with me in the garden. Because, in my dreams, we are almost always in the garden.
But the price paid for these sweet dreams is awakening every day to the knowledge of just how enormous is the space his absence occupies.
Yes, these liturgically-heavy days were busy, but being the world's biggest extrovert, he drew energy from it. He especially loved the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday services. Oh, of course he was tired in the week after, but while he was in the midst of it, he was fully present in this most dramatic week of the church calendar.
Gayland in Israel
Early in our marriage we had Holy Week and Easter in Israel. We spent Palm Sunday in Jerusalem, then most of Holy Week in the Galilee. We were back in Jerusalem to walk the Via Dolorosa on Good Friday. We went to the Easter Vigil at the ancient church of St. Anne's. And after wards we walked back across the Old City on worn stone streets bathed in the light from a full moon. We went directly to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to visit the candlelit empty tomb. It was a beautiful, powerful experience.
Gayland had essentially one Easter sermon -- through God Christ is risen and through the Holy Spirit he has moved out into the world. He was with the apostles and the women then, and he is with us now.
But Gayland is not. So, for now, the alleluias are stopped in my throat. I have gone through the motions required of the season, and tried hard to be present. I have enjoyed the family being together, watching my nieces preparing food and filling eggs with some unexpected things (it IS April Fools Day), and watching the younger cousins and various dogs tearing around the garden. An intricate chalk design being created on the bricks of the patio took time in the early afternoon.
As we were finishing up the family Easter egg hunt, a cold wind began blowing from the north. The temperature dropped fast and little girls in pastel Easter frocks and boys in shorts and t-shirts began shivering. So the festivities were transported inside. Later, as it began to grow dark, I moved through the garden picking up cushions and putting hammocks away. The dogs accompanied me, subdued.The wind had gotten stronger and the air even colder.
It seemed more like February than April, more like mid-winter than spring, more like Ash Wednesday than Easter.
Today I drank my coffee out of a cup he gave me many years ago. He called me his garden girl, and he was so pleased to find this cup that he could hardly wait for a special occasion to give it to me.
When we got married, he promised me one day of work in the garden every year. When he died 26 years later, he owed me 26 days. . .
Gayland and hot hard sweaty work just didn't exit in the same universe. Now, he WAS lavish with praise of MY work in the garden. He learned early on that it was a really really really really bad idea, when I had spent eight hours on a hot day digging out and planting a new flower bed, to say, when I proudly showed it to him, "Don't you think that bush would look better over there?"
Having a spade thrust into his hand and me saying, "OK, you can move it," and then me stomping off taught him that that probably wasn't the wisest move.
He loved the garden. He loved it year round. He especially enjoyed spring in the garden, when old friends reappeared -- the Lady Banks rose especially -- and new ones were planted.
He didn't always know what a plant was, and sometimes when I would call him outside to show him some exciting new growth he would stare at the ground and finally say, "Now what exactly is it I'm supposed to be looking at?"
And I would point to a teensy shoot of green and he would grin and say, "Oh, that's fabulous." And then he would laugh at me and himself. His joy in the garden was all tied up in his love of me and this place, as mine was tied up in my love of him and this place.
But joy has fled the garden. It is now inhabited by her big sister, sorrow. His absence has made it all meaningless, leached the beauty away, and replaced the peace with grief.
And you know what? The garden doesn't care. It simply goes on, doing what gardens do, no matter whether humans are laughing in it, or weeping.
The absence of this one man, the empty chairs where he sat, the tables on which he put his drink, the empty walks along which he strolled with the dogs each evening before bed -- they are as nothing to the garden.
Today he has been gone for three months. I woke up knowing this was the anniversary of his death without consciously marking the 11th anywhere but in the cracks of my broken heart.
I try hard to avoid the "four months ago he was alive. . ." game because, well, why? But it still sneaks up on me and ambushes me with heartbreaking memories so fresh and real they could be movies projected on a screen. I come across a photograph, or a note he scribbled to himself and stuck in the tray of his car, or a list he made -- oh, how he loved lists, convinced that with a list he would be organized and invincible against his ADD. But, of course, he always forgot where he put the list . . .
Even sleep is an enemy, because, well, dreams. Dreams have become faithless purveyors of vivid images of him laughing, talking, walking in the garden with me, holding me, images so real that I wake up smiling, only to crash into lonely reality.
Grief seems to have taken up residence in my throat. I can't sing. I can't even pray out loud. Doing any of these things can cause me to dissolve into tears. Sometimes I can't even talk.
Music especially is difficult, which is simply mean, because I love music, as he did. We often had classical music playing in the house. But now one of his favorites comes along, and I can't bear it.
But he would hate it that I might go without music, and so I listen to it while moving through a world blurred by tears, or holding a dog who doesn't mind having damp fur on her back.
But the big dog, Booker, can't bear it when I cry. In his distress he climbs up on me, trying to cram all 60 plus pounds of him onto my lap. He doesn't lick, as the others dogs do. No, he gently prods me with his muzzle and rests his head on my chest, wrapping a leg around my shoulder. And then just holds on. As I do.
Some of the echoes of him are fading, no matter what I do.
He was the grocery shopper in the family, delighting in meeting his friends in the store, checking up on the checkers, bargaining with the butcher, laughing with the stock boys and girls. He knew them all, and loved them.
But today, I opened the last of the bath soap he bought. Yesterday I used up the last bit of coffee he had stockpiled. On Sunday I realized we -- I -- am out of salt. And vodka. Oh, my, he would have hated for me to be out of vodka.
Silly, isn't it, to grieve over such things.
But such things reduce me to tears, and I have to stop and just breathe for awhile.
I watch an episode of a TV series we were watching together, and I start to cry. I watch the final episode of Victoria and weep because he's not here as my personal historian to discuss the accuracy of the story. I finish reading a book we had talked about and automatically think, "I have to talk to him about this ending . . ." I am out at a late meeting and start to text him that I'm headed home, and realize there is no one at home worrying about where I am.
A hundred times a day I think, "I have to tell Gayland . . ." and then stop. I plant some new shrubs and flowers in front of the guesthouse and my first thought is to call him to come look at how pretty they are. I think about doing something new in the garden only to be hit in the face by the knowledge that my dearest co-creator is no longer here. And all the joy in the garden drains away.
People ask, "How are you?' And I say, "I'm here." Because that's all I can manage right now. Showing up. Putting one foot in front of the other. Moving from hour to hour, project to project. Alone.
Yes, this is me, weeping over bath soap, and mourning the last of the salt.
The fact that Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine's Day creates an interesting tension between love and mortality. Momento mori set against vanitas, ashes falling on roses.
This newsworthy collision of love and death is an oddity of the calendar caused by the moveable feast that is Easter.
It is the first time this has happened in my lifetime, and it occurs two months and three days after his death. It's not too strong to say it feels like an assault, a literal shoving of reminders of death into my face.
I don't feel the need for any ashy reminders of my mortality smeared on my forehead. I don't need to be urged to slow down, to reflect on the swiftness of life and the inevitability of death. I have been sitting with ashes for weeks now.
Instead I am struggling to focus on the gifts his love gave me, on the strengths he nurtured in me, on the many times he nudged this introvert into new places amid new people, on the grace with which he handled grief, on the way children responded joyfully to him, I suspect because their open child-like hearts always recognized their twin in his.
He was a bright spirit. His light was a lantern to my feet, and without it, the way forward is harder to see.
Loss is a landscape I am forced to navigate every day.
Loved spaces once shared are now places where pain lives. To occupy those spaces is to encounter the piercing realty of just how much I've lost. And since this reality encompasses most of the spaces in which I live and move and have my being, I have to put on emotional armor just walk into church or through the garden, work in the farmhouse, sit in front of the fire, or - hardest of all -- lay down in bed at night.
It is tiring to navigate beloved spaces now turned desolate. As a friend who has experienced similar grief wrote to me, "The whole world is diminished." I am using a lot of energy simply to get through the day, and then the night.
I don't mean that I live shrouded in loss all the time. I still have a life, and people and animals I love, work I care deeply about, a family I adore. And I have the immense gift of knowing I was deeply loved and cherished.
So I can hold the grief and sadness at bay much of the time, pulling strength from the love and care of so many friends. Plus - and never doubt this - the kindness of strangers is a very real thing.
Still, at every turn in this journey into a future without him I can be ambushed, blindsided by grief, felled by loss between one step and the next.
There is no pill to make this pain go away. But the memory of love, the knowledge of love now present, and my faith in love eternal makes this journey possible.
For the past week or so, I have been making my way through a list of bills, various banking/savings accounts, the water department, the electric company, the public library, Amazon, and the myriad places we had joint accounts or he had a separate account to let them know that he has died.
No he won't be checking out any more books from the library, or downloading books into his Kindle, and please remove his name from this account and from this listing. . .
How unexpected it was to find that simply asking that his name be removed from various accounts, lists, bills, etc. could hurt so damn much.
Oh, I know it has to be done, for accurate record keeping, for tax records, to prevent fraud, etc., but it feels way too much like erasing him from my life. It has been completely exhausting and emotionally draining. My chest has ached so much I thought for a while I might be getting sick. But no, it was simply the very real, very physical pain of an aching heart.
I'm fine until I have to once again say the words, "He died on December 11." On some calls, I can say it with barely a tremor in my voice. On others, though, I barely manage to choke the words out. And I never know which it will be. My emotions blindside me all the time.
I've learned to just say, "Please hold on,"and then put the phone down and breathe for a moment before I resume the conversation.
I very much appreciate the way most of the people I've dealt with have been kind enough to be business-like and focused on the task at hand. Perhaps they have dealt with this situation enough to know that if they offer their sympathy and condolences I'm liable to fall apart and start weeping into the phone or onto the counter and I really don't want to inflict that on them -- or me. As it is, the phone sessions always seem to end up with all my dogs clustered under the desk on or around my feet in a comforting pile of fur and love and shared grief. It takes a great untangling of legs and tails and fuzzy feet for me to just stand up.
Then I turn for solace to the task of thanking people for remembering him in so many kind ways. People have made donations in his memory to organizations he cared deeply about, and I so appreciate that.
If you want to do this too, I would ask that you donate to the parish where he was serving when I became an Episcopalian -- St. Luke's in the Meadow Episcopal Church, 4301 Meadowbrook Drive, Fort Worth, TX, 76103 on the east side of Fort Worth. If you want to donate online, do so at https://episcopaldiocesefortworth.org/online-giving/. Just note that you are giving to St. Luke's in his memory, and the money will be sent to them via the diocesan office.
And if you are looking for a place to explore a relationship with God, and learn how that can inform you relationship with your neighbor, like I was, St. Luke's is a great place to do that.
Gayland being installed as rector at St. Luke's in the Meadow.
Gayland was rector (the priest in charge) at St. Luke's from the mid-80s to the early 1990s. We worshiped together at St. Luke's in his retirement (I still do). The current priest, the Rev. Karen Calafat (who Gayland loved), presided at his funeral. The congregation continues his work of "making and keeping human life human" in this neighborhood, this city, and this state. They feed the hungry, care for the weak, embrace those on the margins, love the vulnerable, help the children, and welcome the stranger. They worship together, break bread together, hold one another close in gentle care. They are a diverse bunch who truly believe, as did Gayland, that God loves absolutely everybody -- no exceptions. They aren't a large congregation, but their impact belies their size. Still, they can use additional resources and Gayland would LOVE to know he was helping with that.
And I would love knowing his work continues even as his name disappears from so many places.
By Matt Tillett (Flickr: Cooper's Hawk) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
There was another hawk today, this time on the patio behind the farmhouse. I saw it fly down onto the back patio as Daisy dog and I were returning from the vet early this morning. Then the hawk took off and swept over us about three feet above my head, looking directly at me. It hesitated as if it were about to land in one of the big trees in the driveway, but then soared on and up and out of sight.
A hawk. Again. This time it was a Cooper’s Hawk. Or maybe a Sharp-shinned Hawk. They look a lot alike.
Beginning in about mid-November, I began seeing hawks everywhere – in the sky over I-30, in the trees in Oakland Park, soaring over Harris Hospital, on light standards beside highways and in store parking lots, even, once, in the birdbath right outside the big window where we sat to watch TV. Hawks don’t usually come to birdbaths.
I’m Irish, and Celtic lore is full of animal symbolism. Great meaning is attached to hawks. And the Celts aren’t alone in this - ancient Egyptian artists showed the human soul as a hawk that flew out of the body and lived on in that form. Hawk was sacred to the sky god Horus. The Greeks associated Hawk with Jupiter, first among the gods. The Celts associated Hawk with Bran the Blessed, a warrior, king, and god.
The old stories say that when a hawk appears, pay very close attention to everything, because hawks carry messages from Other Worlds. A hawk is a signal to both beware and be aware. Makes sense, doesn’t it, since a hawk is a formidable predator. One ignores raptors at one’s peril.
In the old stories, the appearance of a hawk means something important is about to happen, for good or ill, and you need to be ready to take action, to step up and lead. “A circling hawk foretold both victory and death,” Celtic lore site said. The Celts also believed a hawk was a sign that one needed to examine one’s life.
If the universe was trying to tell me something, it wasn’t being very subtle, was it? But ancient symbols aren’t much for subtlety.
So my beloved dies, I am left bereft, and hawks are still hanging around? God knows I’m paying attention. I am certainly examining everything, because if there’s one thing I know, it is that I cannot restart my life. I have to reinvent it, figure out a new way to be in the world as me alone, not as part of us.
Oh, he will always be part of me, for sure. But his hands are not there to reach for, his shoulder is not there to lean on, his eyes aren’t there to gaze into, his mouth is not there to kiss, his ear is not there to whisper into, his body is not there to lie next to in the night. His voice is not there to bookend each of my days with “Good morning, my love. What does your day look like?” and “Good night, my love. Sleep well.”
He no longer notes my coming in and my going out, no longer seeks me out in the garden with a drink to tell me he’s been missing me and shall we sit and talk for awhile?
Even as I move in the same spaces he so wonderfully inhabited, nothing is the same. And it will never be the same again.
So I choose to consider these current hawks as couriers sent by him, winged bearers of messages of love and courage and strength and vision.
Today, the wind is from the north and the sound of the chimes hang in the icy air.
Today, he's been gone a month.
Since he died, I have lived alone through the Third and Fourth Sundays of Advent, Christmas Eve, Christmas, St. Stephen's Day, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the First Sunday after Christmas and New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, Epiphany, and the Feast of Julia Chester Emery, a badass woman of God.
I have lived through a month of opening my eyes every day to the knowledge of his absence and on my lips the lament, "How can you be gone?"
How can such a vivid being, such an effervescent spirit, such a brightness, be simply . . . gone?
And yet his presence is everywhere in this one-of-a-kind place we created together - in the art on the walls, in the stuff crammed in the cabinets, in furniture we chose, in the bricks of the patios and walks, in the spaces of the garden.
He loved the garden, and had come to love it even in its winter bleakness. He learned to appreciate how edges that summer foliage softened into invisibility reappeared to let us see the bones of the garden, the lines of the huge ancient trees, the flow of the walks and the shapes of the flowerbeds. It is easier to see the garden as a whole, to see how one garden "room" plays off against the other spaces. That's why, in winter, we would often bundle up and walk the garden and brainstorm new projects for the spring, arguing and laughing while we drew figures in the air, paced out shapes, each making the case for why this idea would work better than that idea.
As he lost weight, cold bothered him more and more, so we didn't do much walking in the last weeks when the temperature began dropping. But the ideas never stopped -- until he did.
Now the dogs and I walk the garden without him, missing him in this bleak midwinter.
In the bleak mid-winter, frosty wind made moan Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow In the bleak mid-winter, long, long ago. Our God, heav'n cannot hold Him nor the earth sustain Heav'n and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign. In the bleak mid-winter, a stable-place sufficed The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ. Angels and archangels may have gathered there Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air But only His mother in her maiden bliss Worshiped the Beloved with a kiss. What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb If I were a wise man, I would do my part Yet what I can, I give Him - give my heart.
The death certificate has arrived, a rather ornate bureaucratic piece of paper, not unsimilar to a birth certificate. It means the State of Texas now officially acknowledges the death of one of her native sons, a piece of paper to be used as proof of death for the various bodies who need to see such a thing.
I am not one of those bodies. My body aches with the knowledge of his death, vibrates with the pressure of his absence, wanders aimlessly in the spaces in which his presence is still palpable, sits in his chair holding his grieving little dog, inhales the scent of his soap and aftershave and is shocked at the rawness of the loss.
I opened his closet door yesterday and nearly fell to my knees at the impact of familiar scents, textures, and colors of clothes, all meaningful only because he wore them. Slamming the door shut startled the dogs and sent the cat running, but didn't stop the waves of pain. I stood short of breath for a moment, dizzy with the need for oxygen, and him.
So I organize the kitchen, a place set up for the use mostly of a 6"1' man who was, well, a pack rat, a man who never met a plastic storage dish he didn't love, or had too many extra cans of corn or beans in case the zombie apocalypse hit east Fort Worth and we had to hole up for months on end. Or, more likely, feed the 20 or 30 people he would invite over for some celebration and remember to tell me about only on the morning of the party.
The kitchen was his territory -- I was simply the person who vainly attempted to keep it in some order.
I am only 5 feet tall, so now there are many things I simply can't reach without my tall person. So I have been divesting myself of plastic vessels, donating canned goods, and dumping mysterious lumps of frozen stuff from the back of the freezer, all the while talking to him along the lines of "What were you thinking, my love, when you saved all this stuff?"
This divestment has freed up space on lower shelves for the glassware, plates, bowls, etc., that I need to prepare my own meals now that my creative inventive nutty personal chef has ambled off to other feasts in other places. That and a sturdy stool insure that I can at least access all of the cabinets, shelves, etc, on which are stored kitchen paraphernalia.
The problem is, who cares? Without him here to share meals, to talk with over our food, to share stories of the day, to read bits of the news to, to laugh with, why bother? The food was just the platform on which we daily reinforced the structure of our marriage, binding our selves more closely together with each morsel of our lives generously shared, savored, and valued.
Gayland's memorial service was on December 15, 2017, at Trinity Episcopal Church, Fort Worth. The Rev. Bruce Coggin was the preacher, the Rev. Karen Calafat was the celebrant. The video includes the readings, the complete eulogy, and the intercessions.
Eulogy for Gayland Pool
Trinity Church, Fort Worth
Friday, December 15, 2017
“I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”
I cannot begin to count how many times I have said those solemn and amazing words in the past half century, starting down the aisle of some church to start the prayers we say for those who walk on from this life and into the great unknown where one day we all will join them. And every time I have done it, I’ve thought to myself, “Young man, if you don’t believe those words, you’d better act like it, no matter.” That’s because, I hardly need point out, we’re talking about life and death here, the Biggest of the Big Questions we all contemplate at some point. Life. Life! If you believe in God, you know it’s God’s greatest gift to us, including us in the divine purpose, in God’s . . . notion . . . of the fullness of his creation. I think most people love life, even when it’s rank with challenge and duress. I know I do, and I’d bet all of you here do as well. And people who don’t believe in God, they love life too; they may not name it the way Christians do, but they live it with just as much gusto and gumption. I reckon that even people who decide to end their own lives on earth do so more out of disappointment than anything else, just unequal to the struggle of living. Oh, I think we all love life.
I know for sure Gayland loved life. And how! He was into everything, curious about everything, often delighted, seldom bored, poking his nose here and there, sometimes until you wanted to scream. Katie says he was wonderful to travel with for just that reason. Me, I dunno. I know that once I drove us down to a funeral in Hamilton, a right smart piece down the road, so Katie got him up and out and in the car in plenty of time. Decided we’d grab breakfast at McDonald’s in Glen Rose and buy gas. Just wanted to get on the road. Well, there’s not a McDonald’s in Glen Rose, thank ya, so we pulled in at the Subway. Immediately Gayland had to get to know the high school girl who served us, all about her family, her cheerleading, her this, her that. By the time I got us out of there he knew her pedigree by heart, I was fit to kill, so mad in fact I flat forgot to buy gas. Along about Chalk Mountain the unhappy facts dawned on me: too far from Glen Rose to go back, too far from Hico to go on. I knew there was an ancient gas station just beyond Chalk Mountain on the right where you could then buy Dublin Dr. Pepper, and I hoped to God it was open. Pulled up and Gayland was right out the door, into the little store attached, straight to the back wall checking out the different jams and jellies for sale. Here I was about to pass out from vexation, and he’s . . . well, that was Gayland. He loved life. But. We are here today because Gayland’s life with us is over, came to a rather speedy—and Katie tells me entirely peaceful—end Monday of this week along about midday. Death finally caught up with him. I think of Emily Dickinson’s little poem that begins, “Because I could not stop for Death / He kindly stopped for me.” I reckon Death deserves to take a lap for that. Whatever’s the case, Death found him, and for all practical purposes that was that. So we gather today to pay honor to his life and love and the memories we treasure. We’ll laugh and we’ll weep and we’ll just be quiet. In the presence of Death, a great silence falls. Or should. I know when I walked into that hospital room only a few minutes after Gayland died, I could hear the silence of the heavens ringing in my ears. A life that loved life here on earth had slipped into eternity.
Now, at this point in funeral sermons we are often treated to a catalog of the Dearly Departed’s many virtues plus a glittering necklace of sweet, formulaic palliative and uplifting aphorisms, all meant to comfort and lift up, all about how Gayland is now with the One who loves him best, is relishing the greater presence of God, is praying for us, is renewing acquaintance with the horde of people he loved and many of whom he himself sent off into glory at countless gatherings like this one. And I have nothing against all that, often do it myself. But not today. I think with Gayland I need to be a little more specific, because there was nothing formulaic about the man. He was complicated. He was layered. He was not infrequently controversial. I know, because my own dealings with him go back to 1966, and for most of the half century since then, we have been close friends. Not always, of course, and for a while we were estranged; but God helped us past that, and most of the time . . . well, we knew so much on each other that either of us could have put the other in jail! So I speak with some authority here about the way I knew Gayland. I know that many of you here knew him every bit as well, maybe better, and you would have other points to make. I just want to make three. The magic number.
First, let me say it plain: Gayland had guts. I used to see him mainly at diocesan gatherings, conventions and other clergy gatherings, and I promise you the very minute a convention, say, got reared back to pass some resolution roundly condemning this or that bunch of people they didn’t cotton to, Gayland would be on his feet, calling out the hypocrisy and the bigotry and the intolerance of the whole smelly thing. I remember asking myself at the time, “Man, does he know who he’s talking to? He’s gonna get crowned!” And you know what? He very often did. Others would rebut and laugh and ridicule him right there on the floor, and we’d all hunker down for the beheading. Never scared him. Not once. And the next convention and the next and the next, he was there raising particular Cain if he smelt . . . well . . . hypocrisy, bigotry, intolerance, phobia. At times the reaction from those he called out got personal and right ugly. Did not faze him. I remember him saying once, “You accuse me of something, and I might just turn around and own up to it. Then what are you gonna do?” Where’d that gumption come from? I think Gayland behaved that way because he thought Jesus would have done the same. Resisting that kind of evil was just in his spiritual DNA.
Second, many (including me) found the young Gayland theologically . . . dubious, un peu louche. I can remember him going on and on about this or that theological point which the ante-Nicene fathers had dealt with sufficiently and finally and to my own complete satisfaction. That was the young me when I knew a whole lot more than I do now. But I, like others I consorted with, tended simply to dismiss Gayland as a lightweight, a top water, blown this way and that by every wind of tainted doctrine. Do I sound like the fourth chapter of II Timothy? Well, that’s the way a good many of us thought about Gayland. Over time, however, after life turned off my Supercilious Override function, I noticed something. Gayland actually read pretty carefully. I learned that he, like many of us in the mid-sixties, got and read Bishop Robinson’s Honest to God, even if the seminary faculties scowled. Beside that we listened furtively to the noise coming out of our seminary in Austin, the “God is dead” stuff that caused many of us to run screaming from the room, gathering up our theological skirts so all that heresy didn’t splash up on us. And then, of course, came Bishop Spong. I remember telling scandalized parishioners that I was “glad the good bishop was asking those questions, but I wish he wouldn’t do it out in public.” Well, Gayland’s attitude and response were different. He paid attention and did not dismiss the tender-as-your-eyelid nerve endings of a theology trying to come to terms with an existence in which so much of centuries-old orthodoxy was plainly at odds with undeniable circumstance, the bed-rock facts of life in a world often bent on its own destruction. I don’t really have a notion what Gayland’s eventual theological conclusions were, don’t know if he ever came to any. I know we both agreed not so long ago that neither of us had really made his mind up about God yet. And that awareness of the friction between theological formulation and first-hand experience of God and of life with God made it possible for Gayland to talk with people who doubted their own faith, who had no faith, who believed in no God at all or hated God—no matter, Gayland could hear them without judgment, and the openness that some might call laxity let countless people whose lives he touched make headway on their own pilgrimage to whatever destiny lay in store for them. Where did that come from? I think Gayland thought Jesus would have listened before he prescribed. Jesus chatted theology with the woman at the well, for Heaven’s sake. Gayland chatted theology with all comers, though maybe happier with a gin and tonic than with a bucket of well water. He never weaponized God, and that’s something we could all emulate profitably.
Third, Gayland loved life without the gnawing need to improve it dramatically. In his play The Fugitive Kind, Tennessee Williams set a character, a woman, Carol Cutrere, daughter of an old, rich, corrupt family, some four or five years past her prime who spends most of her time careering an old Jaguar convertible along the back roads of Three Rivers County, hitting the juke joints and looking for love in all the wrong places. From time to time, however, she repents on steroids and becomes what she calls “a church-bitten reformer.” Well folks, Gayland was not a church-bitten reformer. Oh, he had a keen moral code and sensitivity to be sure, but he didn’t go about forcing it on others—unless, of course, he spotted hypocrisy and that lot. No, most of the time Gayland was “live and let live” in a clerical suit. If you go look at the hodge-podge of stuff he collected on his travels over the years, you’ll see what I mean. Everything from truly fine art—paintings, prints, sculpture, other artifacts—to odds and ends from building sites or trash dumps or wherever. If he liked the way it looked, he threw it in his kit bag and noodled on. One of the most interesting pieces of . . . well . . . art on his and Katie’s compound is a busted pool table top.
Broken pool table slate as art
I used to say, “Gayland has a thousand ideas a day, and two of them are good. So pay attention.” He loved the variety of life, especially exuberance and flourish, though he could fall silent in the presence of transcendence and just . . . soak it up. Some might call that a kind of spiritual and moral dilettantism. Dilettante. Usually not a nice word. Someone I respected tremendously once turned it on me. But you know what? Just like Gayland, you accuse me of that and I may just own it. It’s an Italian word, and originally it means someone who enjoys. What’s wrong with enjoying? It takes a cynic to turn the word dark. Gayland made no imperious demands of life. He just enjoyed it, and that made it possible for him to be at ease with high and low, rich and poor, all God’s chillen. He loved being with rich people, and he loved being with people without a dime to their name. What caused that? Oh, something in his childhood, no doubt, but also I think because he knew Jesus behaved that way. Got in trouble for it too. Gayland was comfortable over at Rivercrest, you bet, but he was just as comfortable at the Night Shelter across town. A truly genial spirit.
Well, that’s some of why I admired and loved Gayland and will miss his company. You all have your own version of that, though perhaps not so long-winded. At any rate, it’s time now to turn our minds to the matter at hand: resurrection. We bandy the word about almost reflexively, sort of glossing over what is usually our considerable confusion about just what it means. We all live with lots of resurrection, regeneration, both in nature and in our own lives. We see things die, we see things come to life, we understand the concept in general terms. But when we talk about Christian resurrection—“the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting”—what does each of us believe that means? Likely most of us here grew up in fairly standard Christian homes and learned of a three-decker universe in which good folks went to heaven to play harps on golden streets and sing psalms with Mamaw and Papaw and Aunt Laetitia and Uncle Verl. Most of us likely have found that less than satisfactory over time. But what replaces it? What happens when we die? Does each of us survive personally and individually? Lots of the world doubts that; Eastern religion rejects it entirely. But the questions persist. Will I know me after I die? I know I’m not much, but I gotta tellya, I’m the only me I’ve got. I want to live. But when I look at the images from the Hubble telescope my courage collapses around my feet and turns to skim milk, and I wonder who I think I am, hoping to survive as li’l ol’ me amongst all that welter of time and space and creation. But I hope against hope, because I really want to know about the Big Bang. Who banged it? Why? Where’s God going with all this? I really want to stay in the game. I figure you do too.
Well, Jesus says we can. All the scriptures we read at funerals say we can. Job says we will see God face to face and not as a stranger. Paul declares that neither height nor depth nor things past nor things to come can separate us from the love of God. John tells us today that Jesus is the good shepherd who comes to find us and fold us with his own. Jesus says he is resurrection and life, life caught up in the Father’s own life and love. The creed says that the kingdom prepared for us from the very beginning will have No. End. When the disciples in the upper room doubt him, Jesus asks, “Would I lie to you about something like that?” Well, know what, I don’t think he would, and armed with that promise, this pilgrim gathers his soul up in his hand and does his best to trust that affirmation. I just hope that when my time comes, I’ll have the presence of mind to say, “Lord Jesus, take me with you.” Yes, in faith I believe in the resurrection, and in faith I claim it for Gayland.
Katie says that just before Gayland slipped away, he took two deep breaths and shifted in the bed. Bishop Terwilliger used to say that death is a meeting with someone you know. I could suppose Gayland saw Jesus reaching for his hand and said, “Oh, there you are! It’s about time. What have you got to show me?” Faith tells me they’re about that right now, and I’d bet Jesus is having as much fun as Gayland is.
Now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed, as is most justly due, all honor, power, might, majesty, and dominion henceforth and for evermore.