TweetI’ve been keeping quiet for a while.
This blog has been quiet, neglected really, for quite some time. I changed the masthead to remind myself where I currently am, but something about it doesn’t feel right. I’m not “liberal” — I never really took to labels — but I did it to give readers some direction, a heads up as to what they’re delving into when they arrive at this site.
I’m not sure where this blog is headed. Part of me feels like it needs to retire, but I’m not really sure I can retire it. There’s a tendency in the western world to put a beginning and end on so many things when, in fact, it’s one big beginning and one big end with a lot of dashes in between. My Ecdysis is like that. There are periods of sharing and uploading, and then there are periods of inactivity. At least public inactivity.
This morning I went to the funeral of Chris Roark, a heart-centered, truth seeking English professor from John Carroll University in Cleveland. My time working at St. Dominic afforded me the privilege to know and work with Chris in a number of projects. His name regularly rolled off my tongue when I spoke of some of the best folks around that I know in the area who bring the arts, literary scene, and talent to a whole new level on a local stage. Last week, he suffered a major heart attack and immediately died. He was 51 years old.
His love story was one of classic texts and he had three young children he adored. Chris was one of those people who I relied upon in an inexplicable way. I relied upon him like a barometer, to reassure myself that life at any age is worth living, good books, good love, good food, and good conversation is what leads you to what matters. Attending his funeral felt like a thief had come into our home and taken something of great worth. I wept. I grieved. I couldn’t hold it together as I looked at the casket with a white cloth so delicately covering a harsh, inhumanly even shape. So much life lived, and so much yet to live. All finished. All sealed in a box.
When I grieve, crying is the secondary physical reaction. The first thing is the lungs. They compress, as if the tragedy hangs like humidity in my chest, making it difficult to operate and send oxygen to the places where it needs to go. Looking at the church, I observe nearly every adult – male and female – weeping and wonder, “why are we crying?” Why, in the midst of supposed belief that Chris is in a place where there is no more pain, suffering, or limits, why do we grieve? Of course we grieve because we no longer have the physical. What makes relationships so beautiful is the physical – the looks, the sighs, the touches, the exchange and engagement of the physical. Our ideas are spoken, our reactions are visible, our bodies constantly express themselves. And that physicality is stolen by death. Sitting in that church, I felt it. The thief. The thief who steals good people from this world came again. Even as Fr. Tom shares that, “God has called Chris home,” I didn’t know how or why going home for one has to leave so many in pain.
My answer of why we grieve was printed on the back of the funeral program. Along with an equally beautiful and painful photo of Chris’ family on the back page was a quote, “He was a glance from God.” (Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God) and it hit me, as I stared at the perfect photo of him with his beaming wife and joyful children as to why we grieve.
The first is we always grieve what is seemingly broken. We associate brokenness with disjointed pain, malfunction, an interruption of what is and what we think should be. We grieve brokenness, but especially when it is the brokenness that cannot be fixed, which reminds us of our endless run-ins with incompleteness, disappointment, failure, and inaptitude. Brokenness, from every angle, looks unnatural. A broken toy, a broken family, a broken bone — what should be joined is split and its function loses purpose. No one likes feeling futile, and we grieve the reminder that the things that most challenge us often posit us in positions of helplessness. Doesn’t bode well for western society especially. We go out of our way to heal what needs healing, to provide glue in any situation to keep it together. Extreme measures are taken to ensure the longevity of animals, possessions, and human life. Even in the cavity of our moral uncertainty, we often proceed forward determined to elongate and preserve what once was at any cost. Because the alternative is not an option. No one likes broken, or even the potential for brokenness. Because if we allow brokenness in, we might have to rely on others to get us through, we may have to form stronger communities, we may have to be there for others at inconvenient times, we may even have to acknowledge that we don’t know what’s in store for us and live each day in that hopefulness/anxiety.
The second reason why we grieve is selfish. We lose an open channel that connected us to something greater. Any time a person makes you feel more alive, it’s a gift. And the removal of that person feels like an estrangement from God. We grieve what is no longer with us that once brought us deeper joys, greater laughs, bigger smiles. In the grand tradition of human greed, we want more of what’s good, of who’s good, and what they represent. Who wouldn’t want more Chris Roarks in the world? But there was only one, and that one is now gone. To where, I don’t know. We grieve that personal loss because we know there isn’t enough of it in the world. There isn’t enough God or good in the world – however you want to define it – and when you agree to sit through a funeral with nothing but songs, tears, and kind words to anchor you to the bottom of your oceanic grief, there is no way to avoid that concrete fact: another vehicle of love has transitioned and before you can make adjustments to accept the new way you relate to the deceased, you have to confront the fact that the way you gave and received love from that person is no longer available.
In so many tragedies, the word “senseless” is used to articulate the process that someone died with no foreseeable warning, without serving a purpose. Maybe though, there is nothing senseless about death at all, it’s actually the one thing that does make sense, we just don’t want to admit it. It makes sense that we die. Our bodies age, our organs malfunction, our lives are uncertain. When an end comes, there isn’t a “sense” to make of it, just like there’s no logic to explain how or why we end up loving people so damn much. Nothing about love is logical. We could never reason out why we love, we just do. It’s the same for death. We weren’t all born at the same time, so we’re surely not going to leave all at once. And that unknown fact of when we will die, or whose death we must survive and endure, makes us vulnerable in the most profound way.
As I looked at the pain during the funeral, I wondered time and time again what each person was grieving for. I grieved for his wife, who I feel a special bond of relationship with, and his children who are so young to lose a parent. I grieved because to be truly alive means to be open, and to be open means to volunteer to suffer through physical separation when our loved ones transition to another place.
After thinking about Chris, my mind raced with unfinished thoughts, unwritten endings to poems, stories, and prompts. I am quiet no more. Living, the kind of living I want to do, requires interaction and voice. Chris lived only 51 years, but he lived so well, so fully. When I evaluated my own life, I had no excuses to wait or dampen my life in fear or worry. There are no excuses for any of us to not live as fully as he did.
However fragmented this piece, this blog, this life will be, it is solely mine. I own it. And mine will not be quiet.
Remembering you, Chris, and all that your life gave in seeds to feed so many around you. I will not forget you.