…and the garden diminishes: cucumber leaves rumpled and rusty, zucchini felled by borers, tomatoes sparse on the vines. But out in the perennial beds, there’s one last blast of color: ignitions of goldenrod, flamboyant asters, spiraling mums, all those flashy spikes waving in the wind, conducting summer’s final notes. The ornamental grasses have gone to seed, haloed in the last light. Nights grow chilly, but the days are still warm; I wear the sun like a shawl on my neck and arms. Hundreds of blackbirds ribbon in, settle in the trees, so many black leaves, then, just as suddenly, they’re gone. This is autumn’s great Departure Gate, and everyone, boarding passes in hand, waits patiently in a long, long line. ~Barbara Crooker “And Now It’s September” from Spillway
The advance of autumn usually feels like I’m waiting to embark on an unplanned journey that I wish to avoid. I don’t like airports, don’t like the strangeness of unfamiliar destinations, don’t like flying with nothing between me and the ground.
Now “fall” is just like that — like I’m falling.
I look at what is dying around me and know these blasts of color and fruitfulness are their last sad gasps.
So too, when I go out the departure gate, may I go down the long ramp gaily without fear and without regrets — maybe even with a skip in my step as I fall.
How I loved those spiky suns, rooted stubborn as childhood in the grass, tough as the farmer’s big-headed children—the mats of yellow hair, the bowl-cut fringe. How sturdy they were and how slowly they turned themselves into galaxies, domes of ghost stars barely visible by day, pale cerebrums clinging to life on tough green stems. Like you. Like you, in the end. If you were here, I’d pluck this trembling globe to show how beautiful a thing can be a breath will tear away. ~Jean Nordhaus “A Dandelion for My Mother”
Vigil at my mother’s bedside (for Elna)
Lying still, your mouth gapes open as I wonder if you breathe your last. Your hair a white cloud Your skin baby soft No washing, digging, planting gardens Or raising children Anymore.
Where do your dreams take you? At times you wake in your childhood home of Rolling wheat fields, boundless days of freedom. Other naps take you to your student and teaching days Grammar and drama, speech and essays. Yesterday you were a young mother again Juggling babies, farm and your wistful dreams.
Today you looked about your empty nest Disguised as hospital bed, Wondering aloud about Children grown, flown. You still control through worry and tell me: Travel safely Get a good night’s sleep Take time to eat Call me when you get there
I dress you as you dressed me I clean you as you cleaned me I love you as you loved me You try my patience as I tried yours. I wonder if I have the strength to Mother my mother For as long as she needs.
When I tell you the truth Your brow furrows as it used to do When I disappointed you~ This cannot be A bed in a room in a sterile place Waiting for death Waiting for the next breath Waiting for heaven Waiting
And I tell you: Travel safely Eat, please eat Sleep well Call me when you get there.
“No man is an island,” John Donne wrote, “intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod be washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”
Or to use another metaphor, humanity is like an enormous spider web, so that if you touch it anywhere, you set the whole thing trembling…
As we move around this world and as we act with kindness, perhaps, or with indifference, or with hostility, toward the people we meet, we too are setting the great spider web a-tremble. The life that I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place and time my touch will be felt.
Our lives are linked together. No man is an island. ~Frederick Buechner from The Hungering Dark
As we say “till we meet again” to our son and family who return today to their mission work in the island nation of Japan, I sense the strength and tenacity of the web that continually connects us to them. As they serve people thousands of miles away, the love and support of family and friends who touched them during their stay here is “set a-tremble” and extends far beyond our patch of soil here.
It helps to know we are linked, no matter how separated. It helps to know what happens there will reach here with a tiny tremble, if I stay tuned for the smallest vibrations. It helps to know that despite long history of conflict, our nations are connected again.
Fare well, dear hearts. Until we meet again, we remain connected, trembling.
You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you. ~ Frederick Buechner
Once again we bid goodbye. It never gets easier to part from one’s family members when their calling is far away.
I began writing regularly 14 years ago to consider more deeply my time left on this earth and what my family meant to me, here and now, and for eternity.
Family is carried inside the words I write without my often writing about them directly. They inspire and challenge me, they love and stretch me, and as our children have now gone out into the world, two now married, I am assured they are sustained by what they have carried away from this home.
Life is not just about living in the world but what world you carry deep inside. We can never really be lonely; our hearts will never be empty. We have each other forever, even miles and miles and lifetimes apart.
I sustain myself with the love of family. ― Maya Angelou
…you must not swerve from the engagements God offers you. These will occur in the most unlikely places, and with people for whom your first instinct may be aversion. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that Christ is always stronger in our brother’s heart than in our own, which is to say, first, that we depend on others for our faith, and second, that the love of Christ is not something you can ever hoard. Human love catalyzes the love of Christ. And this explains why that love seems at once so forceful and so fugitive, and why “while we speak of this, and yearn toward it,” as Augustine says, “we barely touch it in a quick shudder of the heart.” ~Christian Wiman from My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer
This young couple and their unborn child leave for Asia today to serve as long term missionaries to strife-filled Myanmar. I’ve known them both for over a decade and for the last several months they have stayed at our farm waiting for this day when they had enough funding and support to leave for a place few people visit, and where even fewer would choose to live and raise a family. Yet off they go, with so many hugs and hopes accompanying them.
Breanna’s family had arrived at our church over ten years ago with three very blonde daughters in tow — Breanna the oldest. I have watched her grow through her teens into a determined woman of faith, seeking where she might best serve and never leaving a doubt in any of our minds that God would direct her to where she was needed most, whether it was to use her writing or cooking skills, or to share her entrepreneurial spirit to help others plan and execute their own business.
Jim knows Myanmar well, having served as a missionary there for much of the last seven years, learning the language and working on an updated translation of the Burmese Bible. He first came to our church as part of a small group of local university students who sought a worship home that was steeped in scripture and dedicated to mutual support of the church body, both here and abroad. He sat at our kitchen table ten years ago and talked about his computer programming major and how he hoped somehow to make a difference in the world with the skills he was learning. We (and he) could not have imagined his hope would lead him to a rural village in Burma and the challenging itinerant life of a missionary. He would return to the States occasionally to report on what he was seeing and experiencing, and on his most recent visit home two years ago, there was Breanna in the front row, all grown up and full of questions for him about life in missions.
Ten years ago no one expected these two would find each other. Yet God has plans for His people that we can never guess at, swerve from nor try to circumvent. Their love for each other catalyzes the love of Christ in people they reach out to — never hoarding, never shrinking from a call to go to a place unlikely and unappealing.
For those of us they leave behind, it has been a time of farewells and tears and no few “shudders of the heart” as we bid them Godspeed to their new home far away.
For Jim and Breanna, the seemingly endless goodbyes now become hellos as they bring a love so yearned for to new brothers and sisters on the other side of the earth.