Wednesday, May 26, 2010

waiting up....

Tonight I was out on our deck, watching the heat lightening from the north, hoping that's moving south and the heat will break.

A few nights ago, I was out on our deck, in much milder temperatures, waiting for my son to come home.

I was never able to sleep before my daughter and son came home from wherever they were. They owe me hundreds of hours of sleep over their lives--though I'm not sure how you pay sleep back....

And my son was out and I was waiting for him to come home.

He isn't 17. In fact, he is 34 (only a year older than Jesus when our Savior died...) and has taken care of himself for a decade or more now. But I was still waiting up for him to come home.

He had taken a train from DC, passing his family in Baltimore, to come to CT for the wake of one of his best friends. My son has had several good friends die already. I'm 28 years older than he is and have had fewer friends die. Perhaps he just has more friends, but I don't think it is an 'average' kind of thing.

I remember when a friend of his committed suicide. He flew to the West Coast from Williamsburg VA on St. Patrick's day, took a taxi to the Golden Gate and jumped off. A dramatic statement if there ever was one. Josh and some of his friends, coming home from their colleges, were at our house getting ready for the wake. There were all these young men--gifted and skilled--who couldn't remember how to tie their ties and hardly knew how to button their shirts. They were like people in walking comas. It was too young to stare into the very face of Death. It stunned them.

Josh arrived in his lawyer suit and dropped off his bags. Another good friend had picked him up in Southport and drove him to Cheshire. He dropped the bags on the floor, went to the bathroom and headed back to his friend's car.

Since we knew his friend over the years--he was even in England with us when we visited Josh there the year after college--we were going to the wake. Josh said, "I'll pretend not to know you," and winked. This new death had regressed him--and all of those 30-something people who were at the wake. Josh was the best dressed--still wearing his Baltimore lawyer outfit--but they were all much younger again, staring Death in the face.

When we got there and were in line to speak to the parents and wife and such, with photo boards everywhere and a slide show running on a TV, Bern suddenly couldn't do it. We didn't know his parents much at all, but we'd known their son and wanted to tell them how much we liked him and how much we'd miss him and how terribly sorry we were...all of that. But Bern broke down and had to leave. I asked her later what had caused it and she didn't answer, knowing I knew--that could have been our son, our Josh, our Bonny Bobby Shaftoe in that urn. It is hard, hard for us all to stare into the Face of Death--especially about young men in their 30's.

I waited up and Josh came home much earlier than he would have at 17. Three friends came with him and stood on our front porch with him and had a beer. Josh had played pool with his friend's 10 year old son, probably back at the parents' house. He talked about that.

I talked with them for a while, but our dog was making a fuss and I knew he's stop if I came inside, so I did that. And sat on the deck with the dog for a while and then went to bed.

Waiting up for children is just something a father does. Josh has three daughters--all of whom will be lovely and bright and much wooed. He'll learn. Maybe that's how he'll pay me back the lost sleep--with his own for Morgan and Emma and Tegan.

And may he and Cathy, his wife, the mother of my grandchildren, be as lucky as we have been and only have to deal with the deaths of your children's friends.

Staring into the Face of Death is a profound and transforming thing.

I am sorry my son has done it as much as he has.

I am thankful I've been spared much of that--besides parents and in-laws who died in the scheme of things.

Somehow, the death of the young is so much harder to manage, reconcile, include in a World View, understand, deal with.

34. He died at 34. When I was 34 I'd been married over a decade, my children were 6 and 3. I was in my prime, full of hope and expected joy.

I WILL miss him, though I hadn't seen him since the baptism of Josh and Cathy's twins 3 1/2 years ago. I remember his smile, his sweet good humor...and I think that 'was him', not just what he put on for the father of his friend. And I weep for his friends--especially Josh, of course--for having to stare into the Face of Death and having to have a father waiting up for them to come home....

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.