in captivitatem redigentes omnem intellectum in obsequium Christi
every thought captive
You saw my frailty and you understood it; you appreciated it in ways others could not. But more than this, you received my frailty and made it your own. You did not admire it from afar; you came close and took on infirmity for me. You did not see fit to remain strong from a distance, you came near knowing that you might become weak. And now you are weak on account of me. We are weak together, fellow-travelers in frailty. Together, we now share a common frailty. And you share in it because you loved me, because you are friend.
We shared a love for him. And I am better for it. It is not merely the fact that I loved him that has made me better. I would have been better if it was my love alone. But we loved jointly; we loved him together as a family. This has multiplied my love.
Why is this? Why is it that loving shared has made my love more complete?
I see one way. The fact that I could experience you loving him, that I could see the distinct ways in which you sought his good, has drawn my attention to aspects of love that I might have otherwise missed. Your bodily experience of nurturing him has imaged for me what it means to receive and welcome another, what it means to offer hospitality. All of my welcoming now stands in relation to your physical act of love. It is an embodied act of tending to the needs of the other. It is exemplified in your selfless care.
I see another way. The fact that you both loved him in distinct ways has drawn my attention to facets of his value that I might not otherwise appreciate. That he was little brother, that you knew his frame intimately as it stretched your abdomen - I can’t know what these are like. They are separate from me, but the fact that we love him together means I can experience them within your perspective. I have come to appropriate them as my own indirectly.
I see yet another way. Your loves for him were and are distinct from mine, but the fact that we love him jointly means that I participate in your individual love for him. In this way, my love is multiplied and extended. And the fact that you both could experience my love for him distinct as it was from your own has brought you into my love for him as well. This love multiplies; it does not divide or diminish.
My love for him would have been enough to make me better. But our love together as a family has deepened and extended me in ways alone I could not have achieved. I am better because we loved him together. I am better now because we continue to love him together. Our sorrows are shared; so are our joys. Our love is shared, multiplied and multiplying.
I don’t sit here often. I walk through. I let my hand gently touch his name as I enter. I hardly stop.
But today, I sit and stare at my reflection outlined vaguely in the columbarium walls. And I stay.
My hands ache to hold him again - a minute more. To see him grow like his brother - a year more. To watch him feel the warmth, and grace, and joy of his mother - how much more would have been enough?
There aren’t enough days. There isn’t enough time.
So, I sit looking at a name and dates: birth and death separated by hours. And I feel the weight again.
Those were beautiful hours - better than I could possibly understand. If only we could have stayed there. I would have built a tent. But we had to come down; we had to walk away. Another step further today.
We cast our gaze backward. We call to mind consolations, the gifts of silence and presence. And we see our sheltered tears, shared sadnesses.
We dwell in the eternity that passed in a few short hours. We let our eyes wander over the scene, we bring it back to view it with eyes unclouded. We let our memory guide to the unnoticed significant things.
In the present and ongoing absences, we create new traces of our hopes and fears entangled, inseparable. We sit with them wondering whether we will find them gone too quickly like him.
I write them down because I want to lodge them in me. His smallness, the tenderness of those who cared, the gift of time, the grace, the grace warm in my arms. Her soft voice, her heart extended in sweet words, her gentle embrace holding him now lifeless. I gaze at his ears, a little notch in one. My moments holding him in silence, kissing his colder forehead, mumbling words he could not understand. These moments knowing he knew my voice, my touch, my love.
I write thousands of little words again and again. I carry them with me for moments when sadness overwhelms, when devastating hits with fresh bitterness. I make them part of me so that I will not abide the falsely speaking moods. I make remembering my habit; I live here - in the place where sadness finds itself in an expressible presence and peace.
Grief is the day in and day out chafing against cords binding the wounded together. We are frayed.
Three years after - always after.
Stand near his name, ashes sealed behind.
Note brother’s height to measure the years.
Feel the weight and the depth.
Feel its breadth -
Love, abiding love.
There is joy in hope. There is joy in remembering. But joy is the rest - the quieting of longing in the gifts of love.
How do I hold these together?
When I hope, it’s the longing that tilts me forward. When I remember, I buckle under the weight of longings unfulfilled. Where is the quiet of joy in hope’s longings? Where is joy’s rest in memory’s residue?
Hope holds me fast to a good yet to come. It imagines this good present - fixes it in the center. It sows seed and shoots roots. Memory anchors me to a good now lost. I drag it forward and linger in its graces.
The joy here is not the cessation of longings; it is the faltering participation in a goodness which never was fragile.
I’ve wondered whether joy was absent. I’ve thought through nagging questions about its abandonment. But there were the moments that I could not describe without her gifts; they punctured my skepticism and pointed to a presence hiding in silence.
Days later, I saw joy entangled with sorrow and traced it back to love. But this was slim consolation. More comforting was the thought that joy is present, buried in the loving. It is not deferred compensation for endurance. My work was to love - love as seed, carried as I go out weeping returning with songs and sheaves.
Perhaps it’s the cycle - the rituals of three years now - that draws me back. Time again to renew my wrestling. This time, it is something new. "Maybe there is joy,” the thought intrudes, “but what could it mean to say that joy is hiding in silence, that joy is buried in the loving?”
It’s the question of a colder heart unsatisfied with the warmth of earlier thoughts. My hold on joy is slippery; perhaps, in this life, it is only a fugitive gift.
Perhaps, but maybe joys remembered and anticipated are not just signs. Perhaps they are unions to be recovered in full. And maybe memorials act as salve for the fractured time between then and now.
There is a line thread
through my center
tracing contours of the arm
in which he lays cradled.
Follow it down across corridors
outside where she lies unaware
and undone; and
follow it down streets where he
Retrace that motion - return
to the crook of my elbow
and find four lines twisted
together and knotted - feel
the shape of the knot.
Study its thickness.
Feel the thinness of his line
frail but tied together
with lines of our own.
Follow it forward -
three lines stretched indefinitely forward.
Look closely. Feel closely. Its
nerve is in the weaving.
Each line frays.
But they are tangled together,
three strong-twisted from
Look along the line and see
Feel along the line, each thin,
Study its thickness.
I have been resistant to kind-hearted thoughts about what I must be mourning. The firsts - a laugh, a smile, a step or two. The opportunities for joy and the gift of shared memories. There are countless imagined futures erased with each passing day. Surely, these must be the things I grieve most.
No - I’ve rejected these words mentally.
What I grieve is the child whom I wished to know. My grief is about him - not me; it is about the child now absent from my life. It is his life, his presence that I miss, that I mourn. This is the substance of my grief. I may have received the words, but I did not endorse them.
I have resisted their drift. I have tried to avoid the inevitable turning away from him and toward myself. I have tried to keep myself from being swallowed by ten thousand losses of my own intruding on my thoughts. I have made it a habit to focus my tears on him - on the gifts and goodness of his life now gone. But my losses are not an addendum. They are not alien. They are not separate from him. And I don’t mean this in the trivial sense that his death foreclosed these hopes.
There are new griefs now. Or, is it that there is a newness in this grief? I can’t tell.
I grieve now because I am what I can’t figure out how to be. What does it mean to be his father now that there is no place in which I can act as father? I am who I am in relation to him. And I am bound to him - bonded by love, by memory, and by grace.
I am grieved now because all the imagined futures that interrupt my thoughts (and dreams) unravel my understanding of who I am.
I am a father who does not get to be father. No, that’s not right. I am a father, but only for a time. No, that’s not right either. I still am but, at the same time, I am not. I am a father, but not that kind.
It is this newness in the grief that shapes me now. It leaves me twisted.