Memory Eternal, Mom

This day last year, I helped to lay you in your bed downstairs when Dad, Joel, Katie, Luke and Liesl brought your body home. It was hard to have you with us and also no longer there. It was a blessing to have a few more days to see your beautiful face, to tend to your dear body that had born so much for us, to gather around you as all of your children and grandchildren in prayers and readings and songs. We read all the way through the Bible memory book that you and Dad made before you were married and kept working at all your lives. It was very hard to lay you in the ground and give your body over to the earth, but you would have loved the place that Dad picked out for the two of you. It’s truly a beautiful grave, among the native trees of Virginia, near a field sloping down to the nearby Shenandoah. You’re father and mother would have approved as well. How delightful it would be to show it to all of you. It’s kind of funny how much several of us also love to hear the prayers and songs of the Cistercian monks in their nearby abbey. You would have appreciated this too, although on some days you might have laughed and shaken your head at any of us mooning over monks. I’ve got a second essay being published in the Front Porch Republic. You missed them both, and I wrote them both thinking mostly of how much fun it would have been to talk it all over with you. And you would have really laughed to hear me laugh about being given more responsibilities at church and at the little company were I work. I don’t expect that your father would have fully approved of all the frippery, but grandma would have been proud nonetheless. There is an awful lot missing around home with you gone. We’re hurting in your absence, but you left behind a husband who really works hard to take care of himself and of all the children that you had together. And a few of those children are also working awfully hard to take care of each other. You did a pretty decent job of raising them and teaching them about things that matter. I don’t expect you’re in much danger these days of getting more big headed, but you know I always liked to hold on to the task of keeping you humble as one of my special chores around the house. So I’ll not say much more about what you left behind in case it tempt you to any self-congratulations as unlikely as that might be. But I will say that by remembering you as long as I keep being allowed to kick about this place, I’m also still learning who you were. You prayed with a terrible lot of heart for us all, and I expect that you’re still doing something mighty near to that. So here’s my hello and thank you and goodbye all over again on this anniversary of losing you. There’s a whole bunch of us praying with you, Mom, and even for you. May Jesus remember us all in His kingdom as we look to Him to bring us home.

like a damned employee

That was the harshest criticism he ever made of the children: “You’re acting like a damned employee.”

He quit saying such things after Margaret became an employee of her school board and Mattie an employee of his company and Caleb an employee of his university, but I know he kept thinking them. He wanted to be free himself, and he wanted his children to be free.

…One of the attractions of moving away into a life of employment, I think, is being disconnected and free, unbothered by membership. It is a life of beginnings without memories, but it is a life too that ends without being remembered. The life of membership with all its cumbers is traded away for life of employment that makes itself free by forgetting you clean as a whistle when you are not of any more use. When they get to retirement age, Margaret and Mattie and Caleb will be cast out of place and out of mind like worn-out replaceable parts, to be alone at the last maybe and soon forgotten.

“But the membership,” Andy said, “keeps memories even of horses and mules and milk cows and dogs.”

From Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry (132-134).

child and mother and father

From G. K. Chesterton in The Everlasting Man:

We can say that the family is the unit of the state; that it is the cell that makes up the formation. Round the family do indeed gather the sanctities that separate men from ants and bees. Decency is the curtain of that tent; liberty is the wall of that city; property is but the family farm; honour is but the family flag.

If we are not of those who begin by invoking a divine Trinity, we must none the less invoke a human Trinity; and see that triangle repeated everywhere in the pattern of the world. For the highest event in history, to which all history looks forward and leads up, is only something that is at once the reversal and the renewal of that triangle. …The old Trinity was of father and mother and child and is called the human family. The new is of child and mother and father and has the name of the Holy Family. It is in no way altered except in being entirely reversed; just as the world which is transformed was not in the least different, except in being turned.

faculty of wonder

There is a deep similarity between the union of the soul and body and the mystery of the family. In both cases we are in the presence of the same fact, or rather something which is far more than a fact since it is the very condition of all facts whatever they may be: I mean incarnation. I am not, of course, using this term in its theological sense. It is not a question of our Lord’s coming into the world, but of the infinitely mysterious act by which an essence assumes a body, an act around which the meditation of a Plato crystallised, and to which modern philosophies only cease to give their attention in so far as they have lost the intelligence’s essential gift, that is to say the faculty of wonder.

From page 69 of “The Mystery of the Family” in Homo Viator by Gabriel Marcel (1965).