Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Fall Minstrel Piece

For those of you who don't have access to the witty and scholarly St. Margaret's publication known as The Minstrel, (now under the expert editorial proficiency of Mr. Andrew Siebert), here is an online version of my contribution to the fall issue. (They put me in the "sermons in stones" section. Maybe this one should be "lessons in leaves. . ." but then that wouldn't be as Shakespearean.)

A Measure of Parting

If J. Alfred Prufrock has measured out his life in coffee spoons, then I have in goodbyes. Eliot's words may refer to a number of things, but today they bring me a picture of a great sea. This sea could be one of virtue, of charity or of faith. It could be a sea of emotion, or of things much greater than we are. Whatever it is we picture, the sea is that thing's full reality, and the small spoonfuls we dip over and over into its fathoms are only tastes. My goodbyes as of late are like this sea, too voluminous to bear, and I am no Atlantis.

Goodbye defies the axiom practice makes perfect. One cannot practice loss. The warmth of intimacy betweensouls allows no room for even the slightest zephyr ofapathy. The sweetness of love and friendship contain a bitter goodbye deep within their pit. Thus, the very spark of acquaintance binds us to the pain of its counterpart. In Shadowlands, C.S. Lewis says "the happiness then is part of the pain now."

Fall brings change, and for me this year, many"badbyes," as a good friend wrote in a parting card. Another said "we can't believe you're gone." In our search for balance, we often meet truth when faced with its absence. Goodbyes tip the invisible scale of heaven, shattering our tidy togetherness, whisperingof some other way. The ticket meter at the airport swallows another and another. Goodbyes teach me to hold the things of this world loosely, while, paradoxically, never letting me forget the tragedy of renunciation. They strip me down again and again, plunging me into an unexpected asceticism. In a small, dark gallery in downtown Vancouver I read W.R.Rodgers' words etched on a painting: "There are no homecomings, of course, no goodbyes / In that land /neither yearning nor scorning / Though at night there is the smell of the morning." Goodbyes tether us to the questions we are hurled about our whole life: "What is it I've hoped for?" "What has caught me in this hurricane dance of longing?"

My life, albeit short, reveals the recurring motif of a uniquely autumnal sort of loss. Fall bears the train of melancholy more than any other season, but so elegantly she does so. Leaves fall like words unsaid, memories of warmth, crumpled tickets to sunshine's past charade. Goodbye, from the simple God be with ye (godbwye): How very many blessings we bestow upon those kissed by our most commonplace farewells. The fields will burn, like the seven embers of September, and on the breeze we will catch the faintest whiff of glory.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel;
to set budding more
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimmed their clammy cells...

Ode to Autumn-John Keats

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