You were not here anymore on that Sunday afternoon in January when I stepped outside to take a walk. I needed to feel my feet on the ground, to slow the thoughts scattering in a hundred directions. The sun was rudely bright. As I walked, I thought about the things you’d never see again. Ivy climbing a fence. Lemons on a tree. A gust of wind kicking up a clutch of curled, dry leaves.
You’ll never again think, “Maybe I should grab a jacket.” Or, “I feel like there might be something stuck in my teeth.” Heartburn. Chapped lips. Stepping on a tiny piece of glass in the kitchen and spending five minutes with tweezers and a flashlight fishing it out. You won’t hear the intermittent twittering of small grayish-brown birds you never learned the names of. The soft thumping of your feet on the pavement during a mid-afternoon jog.
Any future impossibly white clouds smeared across a sea-blue sky will be lost to you. A friendly “Hi,” and a wave from a neighbor. The splayed and brush-needled trees that reach over the power lines.
You’re free of any future awkward attempts that might include holding a bag in one hand, your coffee in the other, and trying close the car door with an elbow without dousing your front in volcanic liquid. You’re done yelling at the television when the 49ers play like garbage. Eating ice cream from a paper bowl with a plastic spoon at a backyard barbecue.
You won’t see, or do, or hear, or think any of these things again.
There are so many things I don’t know about you. Won’t ever know. I was not there the day you decided to propose to Connie. The day you maybe almost hit a home run in gym class. Slept in a tent for the first time. Realized your mother was dying. Taught Matt to ride a bike. Tried to recall the last words your father said to you. Kicked my dad’s butt on the tennis court. I don’t know about the times you regretted that thing you said. Or didn’t say.
I do not know all the ways you helped my sister. My mom. My dad, Dan. My other dad, Anthony. The times you prayed for me. I just know you did. And I’m grateful.
I’m pretty sure if we sat down for an hour to talk, we’d have lots we didn’t agree on. But we’d probably find a few overlaps where we did.
You were a man of steadfast faith. Growing up, I thought of faith was like a puzzle. It’s our job to figure out God’s will. Pray hard and keep putting pieces down until the right one fits. Then you get your reward—feeling good—until it’s time to go on to the next one.
I’m not a theologian in any way, but looking back, this kind of faith feels like a recipe for a life of frustration and failure. Keep chasing the next experience and the next, hope maybe you’ll land on the ultimate “fix” for the emptiness, the confusion, the suffering.
My current, slightly more mature understanding of faith has grown to include paradox. Everything is perfection… and we are most certainly broken. All is fundamentally well… and this world has clearly lost its way.
COVID sucks and you should be here. And yet… is that true? Are there really any shoulds? I sit with the pain and searing discomfort that lies between life as it is, and life as I think it should be. I know that you believed, as I do, that God is everywhere and in everything. Which means God is in death.
And God is in our frustration and longing and God is in this lump in my throat and in my irritation and my horror…
I remember that you raised your eyebrows a lot when you talked. I loved hearing you laugh. And as I write that, that my soft palate floods with grief, and pressure and wet pushes behind my eyes.
Why do we feel grief at this place in the body, I wonder? This most vulnerable, delicate part of the backs of our throats, the place where our nourishment and sustenance must pass each day. With every swallow and inhale, we are required to be present with paradox. I am well; I am broken.
We haven’t talked to or seen each other in years, but as I know you lay dying, I’m doing fog-brained grieving things like putting food in the microwave but forgetting to push start.
I’m sure you drank 64 ounces of water each day and everyone knows you were stronger than any ox (not that I’ve witnessed one in action). I once had a conversation with you long ago about how you were starting to like eating vegetables now that you knew how to cook them properly. But COVID still came and dragged the breath right out of you. And… also maybe it was just God’s will, which everyone knows is mysterious.
Or maybe it’s not that mysterious. Look around. Everyone left down here who knew you is radiating love, connecting to each other, and to their hearts, and to their gratitude, and to God. Right here in this moment are all of the beautiful things on earth. And no, Bill, you aren’t here to see it, but you sure knew this feeling didn’t you? Communion.
I know you knew this truth: You will lose everyone around you. You will lose yourself. This broken, beautiful world.
All sunsets are beautiful. None of them last forever.
And so, the rest of us will stay here awhile longer to experience the crumbs on the sofa and the sting of carbonation as it hits our tongues, the way sunlight reflecting on the water looks like a galaxy of stars twinkling at dusk. And the 49ers—who will probably keep playing like garbage sometimes (though right now they’re playing good!).
And you, you will go on to the place that is God, that is everything.
We will miss you.