The holidays are here, with their intricate blessings and woes. There are presents to buy, visits to plan, cards to send and meals to prepare, at least for those who are so inclined. Those who are not may spend as much time resisting the blandishments of the season as others spend giving in to them, but either way few escape the Holiday Time Machine.
Like David Fisher in the award-winning HBO series Six Feet Under, when my father died, I embalmed him. My brother Pat assisted. We dressed him, put him in a box and soon thereafter buried him. Tim did the obits and drove the hearse. Eddie called the priest and did the printing. Mary handled the florals and finances. Julie organized the luncheon that would follow.
Where does a man turn, how does he live, when his hopes and dreams have failed him (or—perhaps no less commonly—when he has failed them)? Few questions challenge who we are and what we believe more profoundly, as this sober account of how one troubled soul wrestled with these questions shows.
Early on Easter morning, some women from Galilee went to the tomb where they had left Jesus. They came because they had been up all night, as people in grief often are, and because it is somehow easier to grieve at the grave site.
Two months after the memorial service they found Vinnie's body. Silence washed over Ground Zero. Hats were removed, bodies waited reverently as they lifted him from the wreckage and carried him out. Several days later I attended the liturgy. When the congregation sang, "Lord, let at last thine angels come," we knew that once again in these latter days God had spoken to us.
I was in Cuba this summer on a mission trip, when our host pastor, Héctor Méndez, approached me, his face grave and drawn. “They have attacked a Presbyterian hospital and school in Pakistan,” he said, “and people have been killed.”
Recently, I prayed for someone to die. She wasn’t an enemy. She was the beloved teenage daughter of two exceptionally fine church friends. Sarah’s frail body, once so vivacious and spry, was failing, fading away—sucked of its verve and substance by a fierce internal rapacious monster: Ewing’s sarcoma, bone cancer.
Wislawa Szymborska, a Nobel Prize winner, makes poetry out of unusual materials: lists of instructions, clothes items, apologies or questions. Her tone can be wry or playful or chilling. Her purpose is to shake us awake to how human history gets assembled from the smallest movements—impulsive or thoughtful, random or rational—of our minds and hearts.
The scandal unfolding at the Tri-State Crematory in Noble, Georgia, has often been compared to events in a Stephen King novel, complete with decaying corpses and an upstanding citizen unmasked as a monster. Over 300 corpses thought to have been cremated have been discovered scattered across the 16-acre property of Ray Brent Marsh in rural Walker County.