The sunlight now lay over the valley perfectly still. I went over to the graveyard beside the church and found them under the old cedars… I am finding it a little hard to say that I felt them resting there, but I did… I saw that, for me, this country would always be populated with presences and absences, presences of absences, the living and the dead. The world as it is would always be a reminder of the world that was, and of the world that is to come.
Wendell Berry in Jayber Crow
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
~Mary Oliver from “When Death Comes”
Today, as always over the last weekend of May, we have a family reunion where most turn up missing. A handful of the living come together for lunch and then a slew of the no-longer-living, some of whom have been caught napping for a century or more, are no-shows.
It is always on this day of cemetery visiting that I feel keenly the presence of their absence: the great greats I never knew, a great aunt who kept so many secrets, an alcoholic grandfather I barely remember, my grandmother whose inherent messiness I inherited, an aunt who died of lymphoma as a young child, my parents who separated and divorced for ten years late in life, yet reunited long enough for their ashes to rest together for eternity.
It is good, as one of the still-for-now living, to approach these plots of grass with a wary weariness of the aging. But for the grace of God, there will I be sooner than I wish to be. There, thanks to the grace of God, will I one day be an absent presence for my children and grandchildren to ponder.
The world as it is remembers the world that was. The world to come calls us home in its time, where we all will be present and accounted for — our reunion celebration.
All in good time.
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2 thoughts on “The Presence of Absence”
Well said, dear Emily. It would be disrespectful of me to add to what you have said here
as you remember those family members whose journey ended long ago, and whose
resting places, you visit faithfully in respect and in love. Especially noteworthy to me is that your memories include ‘warts and all.’ We are ALL human and, as such, we are inflicted with
shortcomings and imperfections. We lovingly accept these failings, however, because we,
ourselves, recognize our own faults and misdeeds.
As is your consistent practice, your words come from your heart, your soul, your life experience and, most valuable and so precious to us readers, they represent the tenets of your lived, strong faith. Your blog is a blessed testament, a ‘tell it like it is’ personal witness to your Christian faith
and your deep abiding love for Jesus the Christ.
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simply gorgeous, Emily.
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