Thursday, November 19, 2009

May the angels bring you to Paradise....

The first funeral that I sang after getting my church job here in the Boston area, was for a 17 month old child. Talk about being thrown into the fire. I was still at the point where I could have used a nice transition from one way of working to the next; this was not a transition. I was fresh off of singing in French, Italian and German, every beautiful melody in this world; everything I had ever dreamed of singing. Each note seemed so important. I was so important because I was producing the notes. Every time I sang for an audience it was the culmination of the hard work that preceded that moment. Did they know what it took to do this?
When I stood to sing the opening hymn, Precious Lord Take My Hand, I was no more important than the pews in church. In fact, I was less important, for every note soared across the heads of the congregation and fell upon the ears of a mother who could only hear the clamor of grief.
In the end of Madame Butterfly there is a scene where the title character sings a farewell to her child. I had struggled with the flood of emotion at imagining her terror. It was difficult to manage singing beautifully, while conveying my understanding of the gravity of the moment: This was ten times worse. I now have my own children and my own experience with the deepest love there is, by which to try on and measure such grief. That is not to say that I am capable of truly understanding. It is as if the despair were encased in a plastic bubble: You see it's dimension, you see it clearly. You are next to it, but you cannot touch it and it cannot touch you.
With pure grace and courage so raw that a chill ran through the church, the mother glided to the lecturn at the end of mass to pay tribute to her baby son. Like a soldier after weeks of combat, having just been bathed and fed, she found the strength to recount the events, for she knew that no one else was qualified to tell the story of the piece of her heart that has floated away from her body.
Had he lived and grown, what sense would it have made to put pressure on him to be the best or whatever it was that she would have grown to expect? What would she have taken for granted in him as a boy and then a man?
Two years later, I think of her often. I pray for her often. She holds a great secret to the meaning of the journey of parenthood. The perspective that comes from loss. The gratitude through the desperate hours. The sweet Paradise that we often forget in the expectations and stresses of family life, which is the sweetness of that kiss, or the hand in yours. Only when it is gone could we know that that is heaven on earth.

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