“Cue Andrew” – Our 7th Christmas Without Him

This is our 7th Christmas without Andrew.  He is not here and he is everywhere.  At times, his absence is the most present thing about him.  For example, when I hear a song he liked or see someone who resembles him, or come upon something that I once gave him, I cannot help but remember him.  That is the everywhere part.  And tonight, when as the church musician, I open the music of the Christmas Eve anthem, his name will literally be written above the first note.

“Cue Andrew” is written there–because some years ago, he came home with his horn for Christmas and we worked him into this very song. (Being both the director and the dad gave me access to his incredible talent at special times for very affordable rates…although, as it turns out, I’d pay any rate to have him back to play.)  But Andrew won’t be performing tonight and that is the part about his being not here.  There will be another instrumentalist in his stead, labeled elsewhere on the page.

Through the years, I have written into (or erased from) my music myriad names.  In some cases, I can read them layered above others that are erased but faintly visible.   I have some musical scores wherein I can see in a glance a line of trumpet players going back thirty years.  But nowhere and never once have I found myself erasing Andrew’s name.  Nor will I, because I now hold on to my memories of him as precious.

And while I grieve a little harder at Christmas, I also take more comfort in knowing this: neither will God erase any of our names.  Ever.  Because the Maestro Creator and Loving Parent of Us All holds, keeps, and cherishes our names–every last one of them.  We are near and dear to God and irreplaceable.  And the take away of the Christmas story is that God is willing to pay any rate for us also.

So I will trust God to remember Andrew. I can think of no better place for us all to be than in the memory and loving heart of God in whom meet both the past and the future.

Therefore, comfort and joy, everybody. “Cue Andrew.”

2009-christmas-eve-cropped

St. John’s Christmas Eve Service, 2009 – Andrew’s last.  He is seated on the left behind the Advent Wreath, playing his horn.

 

Posted in Andrew, Christmas, Faith, Fathers and sons, Future, God, Grief, Memories, Music, Parenting

 Thankful, Hopeful Joy

Thinking yesterday about the title of an upcoming choir service called “Repeat the Sounding Joy” (from the hymn, JOY TO THE WORLD), I was reminded that these same famous verses about Joy contain also within them this: “thorns infest the ground.”  Among all of the hymns and carols of Christmas, few are more favorite than this one, and none so joyfully about joy, and yet singing the old hymn ensures that you’ll not only allow that there is a curse, but that it is to be found far and wide.  What the hymn does not shy away from saying, we sing glibly over.

But how can we sing about joy amidst this thorny, cursed plot we’re smack dab in the middle of? Is it not dampened by the reality that not everything is going so well?  How can we dance with these harsh pebbles in our shoes … which keep getting in because of these holes?  And not to mention that we’re on a rocky path to begin with.

I learned of a death yesterday.  It was far away, but the miles had no effect on how I felt because of it and I wept as the ripple of sorrow rolled ashore in my life. I am acquainted with grief so I opened the door to it and we sat in silence for a bit.  After awhile, I rose and it went its way.  Not too much later, I experienced no small amount of joy circling around me as I rehearsed the choir on this very hymn.

So how can there be joy?  How can we honestly sing about it in these dark times?
There can be joy because by some miracle, it seeps in.
It arrives unlooked for, and in odd places.
It is not dependent upon the circumstances.

As someone else put it:

“Joy drinks pure water.  She has sat with the dying and attended many births.  She denies nothing.  She is in love with life, all of it, the sun and the rain and the rainbow.

–The Book of Qualities by J. Ruth Gendler

Joy takes her place on the far side of sorrow and is more akin to it than she is to fleeting happiness.  Because until there has been the experience of loss and grief, we cannot fully appreciate the gift of this life we have and all that is in it.  So where there will be joy — there will have been loss.

And there’s where those pesky thorns infest the ground. Therein is the curse in the aforementioned verse.  O the humanity.  Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning, said the psalmist.

Joy, it turns out, is the distillation of gratitude.  It’s not the trickle-down of wealth or of fortune, but the bubble-up of hope.

So…joy to the world.  Thankful, hopeful Joy.

***

(Remembering KH)
Posted in Death, Gratitude, Hope, joy, Uncategorized

Wandering Time is Come

Glorious it is when wandering time is come. (Eskimo proverb)

And so it is that Clara and I have come to the day of departure together.  The time is come.  She is returning to her life as my daughter living far away amongst the city of angels, and I am returning to my life as a grateful father whose beautiful children are both in my life and absent from it.

It is a mystery to me how loved ones can be present even as they are absent, and how such a reality extends beyond life itself, but I know it is evidence of the power of love and it gets me through any sense of loss.

We share the same road — at least on the outbound drive (I’ll hop a flight on the lonely return). But she is her own self, as I am mine, and the destinations we have are ultimately different.  I’m just glad we get to have this opportunity together!  We’ve been intentional to allow time for a little wandering, because Time + Wandering = Glory.

And glory is the glimpse of eternity.  It is how we know we’re on the road.

We hope to enjoy many (safe) adventures along the way.  Traveling mercies, please.

The Road from Taos. August 2015

The Road from Taos. August 2015

Posted in Children, Family, Gratitude, Love, Mystery, Parenting, Traveling

To See You Again

Who, like Jacob blind with grief and age, smells the shirt of his lost so and can see again?     [Rumi]

*  *  *

Reading the poetry of Rumi this morning, I was struck by the image of a father, holding his son’s clothes close, and of the powerful transport that is our sense of smell.  It can instantly summon us (at least our minds) to far away and long ago.  But I wonder also, if more than our minds are transported.  Hold close in your heart the memory of your loved one, imagine their smell and see if you don’t sense their nearness.

When Andrew died, I traveled 500 miles to find him waiting for me in an intimate space so that I could see and be with him.  The fall that ended his life only hours before may have taken him from me — life is so fragile, but it couldn’t sever the bonds of my love for him — love is so unbreakable.  I didn’t cry (not there) but I spoke lovingly to him as a father and a friend.

Later, I went to his apartment bedroom and gathered his things, holding his clothes up to my nose to remember.  I could smell him.  For the most part, we gave his clothes away to family, friends, and tornado victims, but we kept a few items — some of which we still wear.  There are a few things, however, that were laundered and stored away.  Occasionally through the years, I have returned to them, held them close, shut my eyes, and imagined.  To me, they continue to smell of my Andrew, so locked into my brain is the smell of him.

Like Jacob, I too have lost a son and I cannot see him.   However, my son is a lot further than Egypt.  No, I cannot see him with my eyes, but aided by my other senses, especially an unknown sixth one, I sometimes am able to.  It’s what gets me through.

Poetry is eye-opening.

I held these thoughts this morning in the presence of Ginger, my early morning companion, who once opened to me the meaning of this prayer:

God,
I long for someone.  I miss people.
I miss those I knew and will not see.
I miss those I know and are not here.
I miss some I have never met.
I miss some before they leave me.
I miss the places I know by heart,
every aroma, every tree, every flower,
every nook and cranny.
You have made me with the gift to miss, to long for,
to stay connected to what is never finished.
When I miss, I feel a great power leaving.
I wait for its return, and then I will dance.

“I Miss” from DOG PSALMS, by Herbert Brokering

Aren’t dogs attentive and understanding?

Ginger waiting

Ginger, waiting . . . (photo, Joanna Lile)


*  *  *

Posted in Andrew, Dogs, Fathers and sons, Ginger, Grief, Healing, Love, Memories, Poetry, Prayer

“Even the sea is giving me a happy birthday”

From Andrew’s 2nd Grade Journal:

Thursday, January 16, 1997

It is my birthday today and Gulf Breeze is giving me a happy Birthday.  Even the sea is wishing me a Happy Birthday.

AAH Birthday Drawing 1-16-1997

Andrew’s illustration of celebrating sea life includes: flying fish, a porpoise, a saw toothed shark, an eel, a crab, an octopus, a starfish, a catfish, a coral bed (possibly), a catfish, a mermaid, and a smiling bed of seaweed, all gathered to say “happy Birthday, Andrew Howell” — which his teacher seconded in her comments in the upper left.

* * *

Andrew loved drawing and illustrating animals. His artful output is large. Sifting through a box of his stuff looking for his journal, I found this undated illustration chart from a few years later (5th grade?):

Amazing Animals Guide featuring (left to right, top to bottom) the following animals: platypus, echidna, bald eagle, barn owl, kiwi, arctic wolf, emperor penguin, tarsier, indri, linsang, flamingo, gorilla, lemur, baboon, basilisk lizard, capybara, Galapagos tortoise, komodo dragon, caiman, koala, tamandua, red-necked wallaby, tiger, leopard, spotted deer, squid, camel, hyena, collared peccary, walrus, chameleon, eel, anaconda, cobra. Full illustrations below feature the walrus, the basilisk, and the squid.

Amazing Animals Guide featuring (left to right, top to bottom) the following animals: platypus, echidna, bald eagle, barn owl, kiwi, arctic wolf, emperor penguin, tarsier, indri, linsang, flamingo, gorilla, lemur, baboon, basilisk lizard, capybara, Galapagos tortoise, komodo dragon, caiman, koala, tamandua, red-necked wallaby, tiger, leopard, spotted deer, squid, camel, hyena, collared peccary, walrus, chameleon, eel, anaconda, cobra. Full illustrations below feature the walrus, the basilisk, and the squid.

* * *

All of God’s creatures were amazing to Andrew. Many of them I would never know the names of nor how to identify them were it not for his careful and constant cataloguing.  And I have no doubt that, yes, even the sea is wishing him a happy birthday.

Thank you, Andrew. Enjoy this day!

Posted in Andrew, Art, Nature