Bright sunlight shines through the cold glass. The house is quiet and empty, but outside I hear the traffic on James Street and the out-of-place, intermittent buzzing of a chainsaw as someone works to prune one of the large trees that line our sidewalk. The sky is a cotton candy blue, and a few remaining leaves twist in the cold December breeze, somehow still hanging on.
It has been a long two weeks since we last corresponded. The day after your last letter, somewhere in the middle of a normal Saturday morning, I learned that a close friend of mine went into his only son’s room to wake him up, discovering that his 16-year-old had died in the night. He was a happy, loving teenager with doting parents and a kind sister. He was excited about his future and loved by his classmates. His death has left Maile and I reeling, shaking our heads, and crying quiet tears at unexpected times. What is this fragile life?
Six days later, I got the call that my grandma died at her home in Florida. She lived with my parents for half of the year here in Pennsylvania and spent her winters down south. Her passing was not unexpected, but she had such a gentle presence and a steadiness that will be greatly missed in our family. It’s interesting to me how someone who was so quiet, such a good listener, can leave such an intense void.
Last night, we went to my parents’ house and I walked through my grandma’s adjoining apartment, taking in the strange stillness. There are pictures of her on the wall, some with my aunt who died of cancer only a few years ago. There are pictures of my cousins when they were little. There is the chair where she spent so many afternoons, watching baseball of all things.
These losses have felt like axe blows against a tree—shuddering, and personal, and biting. Most of the time now, I feel only empty.
In your last letter you talked about patience and faithfulness and how “we want our work, whether in marriage or parenting or friendship or ministry or professional vocation, to be as effortless as instant coffee. We don’t want to be patient.” I feel that so much now, especially in regards to grief. I’d like to cry hard for an afternoon, or an evening, or maybe a week, but then I’d like to set this ache to the side and move on with life.
I’m realizing now that grief, like writing or marriage or parenting, requires a kind of determined patience, a commitment to relinquishing anything that looks like a time frame, a giving up of ourselves to this day and nothing beyond it. My good friend who lost his son told me that he cannot imagine how he can ever live an entire life without his beautiful boy, so instead, when he wakes up, he determines that he will get through the day in front of him and trust that somehow time will do its work. A tenacious, almost ruthless, patience.
What wisdom. Maybe this is how I should view all of these important things we have been writing to each other about. Marriage. Parenting. Writing. I cannot imagine how I will do all of those things well for an entire lifetime. But today I can do my best. Today I can write the words that come to me. Today I can love Maile well. Today I can try to accompany my children on their journey and hold them up, keep bringing them back onto good paths.
Matthew, quoting Isaiah, writes, “the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” I have been clinging to that verse. Perhaps this is what our patience in every area of life is teaching us, or growing within us: the patience that will see us through these great periods of darkness, the kind of patience that gives us the strength we need to keep our eyes open, waiting for that great light.
In darkness and in light,