Elizabeth's Birthday, 12/19/2021

Today is Elizabeth’s birthday.

There are moments where it seems she is hardly gone. I look up, expecting to see her smiling over at me. I have some experience or thought I am excited to share, only to have it die in remembering on my tongue. Rhythms of life feel like one half of a song, the drums and bass chugging along but rendered nonsensical without the guitar and vocals. 

There are other times when I vividly feel that she is not here anymore. I find memories of her bright face in our earlier years already blurring with the sunken complexion of her final days. I listen to recordings of her voice (every night a CD she made sings our boys to sleep) and it is her but also somehow isn’t; like someone doing an imitation proven false by its lack of vitality. I try to remember the exact feel of kissing her, and it is not quite there.

Memories are sweet, but they cannot replace the there-ness of a living, breathing being. Human lives have the weightiness of planetary bodies; you don’t notice their gravity until suddenly its absence throws off every trajectory and orbit it touched. Days like this one cast the wrongness into stark relief.

People often try to rush by such moments. To hurry forward to heaven or the resurrection. To race to the truth that there will be more life to be lived, seasons of joy for me and the kids. All of that is true, and there are times and places for such truths, but this is not one of them. This is a day to sit in the void, in the silence, and observe it with memories and tears.

“For those who depart from it, bearing it
in their minds, the grave is a beginning.
It has weighted the earth with sudden
new gravity, the enrichment of pain.

There is a grave, too, in each
survivor. By it, the dead one lives.
He enters us, a broken blade,
sharp, clear as a lens or mirror.

And he comes into us helpless, tender
as the newborn enter the world. Great
is the burden of our care. We must be true
to ourselves. How else will he know us?

Like a wound, grief receives him.
Like graves, we heal over, and yet keep
as part of ourselves the severe gift.
By grief, more inward than darkness,

the dead become the intelligences of life.
Where the tree falls, the forest rises
There is nowhere to stand but in absence,
no life but in the fateful light.”
-Wendell Berry