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:

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

Full Moon at Christmas (our 6th without Andrew)

Again at Christmas did we weave
The holly round the Christmas hearth;
The silent snow possess’d the earth,
And calmly fell our Christmas-eve.

The yule-log sparkled keen with frost,
No wing of wind the region swept,
But over all things brooding slept
The quiet sense of something lost.


I found these verses of poetry again Christmas Eve in a book I return to from time to time.

Having risen early, I turned on the tree lights, took my place in the corner chair and allowed for silence to blossom in the space.  All was calm, all was bright.  Beautiful.  From within the tree, small constellations of brilliance reflected off ornaments and cast themselves onto the walls and ceiling.  The moon was nearly full outside of the window.  On Christmas Day, it would be full.  The time was not complete — not yet.

I knew my Christmas would not be complete either.  I have been missing Andrew, of course.  This is our 6th Christmas without him.  I don’t want to take anything away from the beauty around me, or the joy that others feel, or the power of Love to overcome unexpectedly and in ways like nothing else can (which is what Christmas means to me), but I would be less than genuine if I did not also acknowledge that something is missing.

And since this isn’t going to go away, it helps to simply pause sometimes and allow for the presence of absence to have its say.  At least it’s that way for me — and I suspect for others whom I know also shoulder a loss in their lives.

Christmas Eve services can be a beautiful experience.  In many traditions, they feature the element of Communion.  But there is another form of communion that happens in silence, often below the surface and in out of the way places.  A moment of mutual understanding between two individuals who through a hug, a nod, a silent gesture, a look in the eyes, or a soft word, acknowledge the quiet sense of something lost.  We are not alone.

I don’t think that this communion is a different communion than the one that exists in receiving the bread and sharing of the cup.  Rather, it is an extension of the same one.  In the service, the assembled, having sung “O come, all ye faithful,” and who are actually only more or less faithful (I’m usually somewhere inbetween), are told to keep this tradition going until the Lord comes.  In other words, the time is not complete — not yet.

Christmas is like that.  It celebrates less the resolution as it does the beginning.   The introduction of hope into hopelessness.  The arrival of light, yes, but to be more accurate, it is about light shining in darkness.

Christmas Day in the morning; Lexington

Christmas Day in the morning

On Christmas Day in the morning, I took this picture of the now full moon from the staircase window.  Then, Maureen, Clara and I traveled what felt like all day and the better part of the continent so that we could gather with family in California.

Good to be together.

There was laughter, good food, hugs, and kisses. We prayed with gratitude and remembered others who were not with us.  Gifts were exchanged and there was the spontaneous impetus of what could be a delightful new tradition — after the opening of each gift, a round of polite and encouraging applause followed — affirming at once the giver, the receiver, and the whole act of giving.  It seemed like a good idea as even the oddball gifts were graciously acknowledged.

Christmas evening, Bakersfield.

Christmas Day in the evening

Later, I stepped outside to observe the same full moon shining even unto Bakersfield, where Christmas has come too.  In a way, I felt that it was the presence of Andrew with me all day.

I acknowledged my loss, felt the communion of it with others, and was able to move forward.

At Christmas, we celebrate the gift of Love in our midst — most visibly seen in the face of Jesus.  Love doesn’t take away our loss or replace it.  But it does accompany us in acknowledging it.  True love knows our loss.

The annual broadcast of the Christmas Eve Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings College Cambridge, heard worldwide, begins each year with the singing of these words:

For He is our childhood pattern;
Day by day, like us He grew;
He was little, weak and helpless,
Tears and smiles like us He knew;
And He feeleth for our sadness,
And He shareth in our gladness.


Merry Christmas.  Let us move forward with hope, looking for the day when things are complete and we no longer have to say not yet because the time will be now.  Until then, we are accompanied by One who knows our sadness AND our gladness.

Posted in Andrew, Christmas, Faith, Grief, Healing, Hope, Love

What the Sound of the Horn Means to Me

After directing our church choir last Sunday in a special service of music accompanied by a brass quintet, a friend closed an email to me with the following comment:

…as an aside, I wondered if it was hard to have that french horn playing at your right elbow the whole time. I just think on occasions it might be tough.

I answered:

It doesn’t bother me to hear and work with french horns, though there are many times when I hear their tone and sense (in a unique way) Andrew’s presence — especially when it involves a solo line.  This is mystery…and I am happy to permit it into my life without qualifying it or reducing it to sentimentality.

I was talking about a real sensation of feeling Andrew’s presence — which I know could be easily debunked by a skeptical mind, and that’s no problem to me either.  But in those moments, I am strengthened by the unending love that I have for Andrew and which I know he has for me.  I am comforted with a sense of peace.

There is much that I don’t understand about this quirky and murky life — all those holes in our understanding of the cosmos, all those unanswered questions involving nature’s phenomena or even broader questions such as why? or where did it all come from?  Who can really say?  Nevertheless, I believe in life, and am wholeheartedly immersed in and committed to it.

All the more reason, therefore, that when faced with mysteries which lie beyond the shore of what we know, I am reticent to draw limits on possibility.  We simply do not know.  And within the grander scheme, I think it is okay to allow for some overlap of either mystery or fancy into our experience of life.  Doubt is permitted, yes, but so is mystery — I trust God to work in both.

In her book, Healing After Loss, Martha Hickman shares:

There is always room for doubt. There is also room for faith and hope. That is the nature of mystery.

Posted in Andrew, Doubt, God, Hope, Mystery