BP_blog
Groanings Which Cannot Be Uttered

The Less Explained the Better Understood



house-windows-boarded-up-for-hurricaneOne hopes the reader will not think it strange or inexcusable that, while discoursing on the ineffable—something, by definition, incapable of being adequately described—the present writer demonstrates the very elusiveness of the point he himself struggles to articulate.

* * *

I was 12 when my father, a Master Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, was called to a year in Vietnam. My mother, sister, and I moved in with Mom's mom in her turn-of-the-century brick house north of Little Rock. The year was 1965.

In the house was a boarded room. Without being told in so many words, I learned it was not to be talked about. When the attempt was made, eyes would dart to the worn carpet or out the window to the golf course across the road; or else another topic—Lyndon Johnson's beagles or what soup to have with lunch—would be broached. These were sufficient signals for even a boy thought dull and impertinent by some of his schoolteachers to sense nearness to the edge of an invisible, dangerous precipice.

My family had always been indirect. Plain-spokenness, it was felt, jangled the sensibilities beyond what could be reasonably endured. Better to wring from life such peace and happiness as one could, than deal with life's inevitable unpleasantnesses.

Death, in particular, was a thing most scrupulously to be avoided, not solely as a practical matter—as evidenced, for example, by overly-solicitous precautions against rare winter blizzards or admonitions to sip one's ice-water slowly on summer's dog days—but also as a mere subject of conversation. Although I never consciously formed the thought until much later, at some level I must have wondered whether such caution was induced by superstition or the habit of a healthy mind.

I, of course, was more than happy to oblige the enforced confinement to what one might call emotional green pastures; joys, after all, are hard enough to come by without dwelling unnecessarily on misfortunes. The unspoken consensus among us was that the Valley of the Shadow would come soon enough. On balance, I think it could be argued my first seven years were as felicitous as any middle-class American boy's.

My eighth year, however, was different. I was in the second grade when a classmate named Jack drowned in a swimming pool. I remember no details. As far as I recall it simply happened, and life for everyone still living, so I supposed, went on as before.

But something in a dull boy changed that day, though by degrees so imperceptible that, years later, only the Arkansas oaks could take the full measure as under their deepening shade he, with tears streaming, buried a kitten given him the day his father went to defend and kill sons in a faraway place.

A father, seeing his child die, dies every day until he dies.

With the passing of years, Death became to me ever more irksome and audacious; the Intruder who insisted it was I who was living in his home. When my best man committed suicide in 1979 and I failed, miserably, to console either his mother or myself, I felt, in addition to myriad other dark humors, mocked. How much must people suffer? “Too much,” came the answer. “If this is blessing in disguise. . . .” and then the slightly-less-trite repartee: “Then the disguise is too good.”

A mother, seeing her child suffer, suffers more than the child.

My Father! Is this a dream? What am I privy to?

I sat up in bed, heart pounding. My first confused thought was, my father is in Vietnam. But no, that was 1965. Dad died of a heart attack in 1980, the year my first child, my daughter, was born. What year is this? Where am I? Why did I think of Dad?

In my hand were notes I had scrawled hours earlier. At the top was one word, “Equanimity.” Beneath it, these:

 

They buried a child today as I looked on

I saw the mother submit publicly

To the raping spade

Polite eyes strayed grassward

As the father crumpled

Beside the earth’s deformity

A book was opened

Words strove out

But nothing was said, nothing heard

Over the din of futility

They were quietly led away from their brief miracle

The exoskeleton still clinging

The cicada flown

After seventeen years

The book’s vault was sealed shut

The sky did not split

Or the heavens implode

I knelt to place my incongruous flowers

Among the agony-strewn stones

And rose to damn the singing bird

I listened intently, in spite of myself, conditioned as I was by decades of silence. I wadded the paper and threw it against the wall. It seemed almost a sacrilege to have written it; and yet as I reflected, a greater sacrilege not to have done so.

I retrieved it and lay back down, and as I did I became aware, if only vaguely at first, that I knew something; something that, all along, had been slowly growing in my understanding, though I was not sure what it was. This is what I thought it was: “The fellowship of His sufferings.” Why did I think that? “A thing which cannot be uttered; the pain of Parents for sons and daughters, without number, without merciful interlude.”

Weep, child; weep with Us that weep; cry rivers of tears until the crystal sea from whence they flow is wiped away and is no more

That's what I didn't hear, but knew. With sudden clarity I realized I didn't have to be told why the room was boarded. But I had to know.

I returned to Little Rock in 1998, retracing with my own 12-year-old son the childhood steps of an itinerant Air Force family. The current occupants of Grandmother's house, strangers to us in what I silently realized was a most decidedly unimportant way, graciously let us “tour the grounds.”

As we made our way down the hallway on uncarpeted, hundred-year-old hardwood floors, I could see from the precipice edge that the room was unboarded, as, in faith, I knew it would be.

I gripped my son's arm tightly. He did not know why. How could he? I did not go in. That would happen soon enough.

Taped to the wall above my hospital bed, in scribbled utterance probably only the oaks, sworn to holy silence, can know the full significance until kingdom come, is a new song:

Beloved, how can you be troubled now

This final hour of unfriendly night,

When Christ has pledged, as with a marriage vow,

To take you to His house of cheery light?

If lavishly He spilled the bottled wine

To celebrate your love; if eagerly

He slipped into the thorny ring as sign

And seal of purest sworn fidelity;

If joyously He cast the veil aside

To steal the honeyed kisses of the mouth

That named Him as her love and she His bride,

How can you suffer any foolish doubt

That He shall shortly take you home as wife

Whose worth to Him He measured with His life?

 

Rolley Haggard is a feature writer for BreakPoint.


Articles on the BreakPoint website are the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BreakPoint. Outside links are for informational purposes and do not necessarily imply endorsement of their content.

Comments: