"The man who delivers my groceries wants a Bible,” my mother said, “but he doesn’t know which one. What shall I tell him?” I should have had a ready answer for her, but I did not. It was a big question, after all. If she had asked me to recommend a life partner for her deliveryman, I could not have taken the matter more to heart. Say you have one shot at putting a Bible in someone’s hands.
I was reared just a few miles from the University of Chicago on the city’s South Side. As a kid riding past, I was certain that its buildings were haunted. After all, there were gargoyles clinging to the edge of every Gothic building, and where there are gargoyles, there must be vampires. It would be many years before I entered those haunted classrooms to study.
In the minutes before the wedding ceremony, I wait downstairs in Pilgrim Hall with the groom and the groomsmen. Upstairs the sanctuary is lovely, with freshly vacuumed carpeting and wedding flowers that are a cut above the usual Sunday morning carnation extravaganza.
She died on Sunday, after a month of dateless days that began on Halloween and ended just short of Thanksgiving. We went from the hospice admitting office to a Halloween party in the family room, where volunteers offered us fruit punch, orange cupcakes and orange and black balloons. Three toddlers in identical ladybug suits were dancing on the faux-parquet ballroom floor to the electrically amplified folk songs of a long-haired balladeer.
Toward the end of Wendell Berry’s novel Jayber Crow, the title character reflects on his life as a barber in a small Kentucky town: “I am a man who has hoped, in time, that his life, when poured out at the end, would say, ‘Good-good-good-good-good!’ like a gallon jug of the prime local spirit. I am a man of losses, regrets, and griefs. I am an old man full of love.
In 2006 Charles Roberts walked into an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania, shot and killed five schoolgirls, injured another five and then took his own life. The Amish community immediately declared that it forgave Roberts for his heinous acts, and some of them reached out with compassion to Roberts’s mother. Roberts’s brother Zachary is now working on a documentary called Hope, focusing on his mother’s journey since the shootings. “How does the mother of a mass murderer move forward?” he asks. Forgiveness and faith have been the key ingredients in her life (Huffington Post, November 17).