Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Mr. Lovett died last week.

That is sad enough. Sadder is that I did not hear about it till this afternoon.

It was time. He was 87. He had Parkinson's. His brain was calcifying and his memory was all but gone, along with most of his other means of engaging the world. His death is a mercy. He had been so alive, so vibrant, so much a child of God and utterly without guile. A friend once said of him--and he meant it as an insult, I think, but I took it as blessing and benediction--"He is like a little boy with a checkbook." Yes, in many ways. He had plenty of money. He was preternaturally inclined to share. And he did. With many.

I dedicated Praying for Dear Life to him. He showed me incredible kindness and an almost unspeakable support when he had reason to do neither. He paid for my therapy when I nearly lost my mind. He loved me in spite of myself. I owe him a debt I can never repay.

I was going to say all that at his funeral. He told me many times he wanted me to do the funeral, or part of it anyway. Alas. His dear wife forgot to call me or write. I only heard a week after the fact. He had it all written down, she said when at last I got her email. I had seen a copy of his funeral plans and my name was on them--at least last time I saw them. Just as well.

He always wanted me to call him Bill, or even, he said, Daddy Bill. He was in fact the same age as my dad. But I could not bring myself to call him either thing. The latter because it seemed too close in a way and the former because it also seemed too close, too familiar, if in another way. So I always called him Mr. Lovett.

Always will, and with almost hushed humility and gratitude. And great love.

Mr. Lovett.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Silent as the Grave

A couple of nights before my father died I was sitting with him in his hospital room. I had trimmed his beard and hair—I had never done either before, but we both knew that soon he would need to look his best. There was nothing more, therapeutically, to be done for him. The cancer had done its grim work. A cold compress on his forehead was the last palliative offered him against the fever. He felt awful. His eyes were closed. He was very still.

The Browns and the Dolphins were playing a Monday Night game but neither of us were watching. Still, football had been the most of what Dad and I had in common so I tried to strike up a bit of conversation about the game, tried to hold onto him and us for as long as I could. Dad never opened his eyes, just raised his hand slightly and said, “Shhh. Let’s don’t talk.” Except for “I love you” next morning as I took my leave, never to see him alive again, those were the last words he ever said to me.

I am not sure why I am telling you this story. There are other things I might say. It is just that for one reason or the other my thoughts have been with Dad the last couple of days. And it is Holy Week, too, when the message—the reality and memory and expectation—of death is almost palpable. Death is coming. For all of us it is just a matter of time. That is our lot, the human predicament.

But there is promise, too, of course. We believe in the resurrection of the body: Jesus,’ our loved ones,’ and our own. But those promises are so tangled up with the predicament that sometimes, like now, it is hard to know where to start or how to talk about it. Maybe that is not so unusual.

As I read the narratives again and again of the crucifixion and the empty tomb, I notice how much silence there is. Everything seems muffled and muted. If at Jesus’ birth there were choirs of angels and royal visitors and even the wailing of infants, as he dies the mob falls silent and so do his disciples. Saturday is quiet as the grave. Even Sunday morning there are less words than gasps, at least at first—as if no words are sufficient, right, appropriate, equal to the miracle.

There will come words, of course, joyful and celebrative testimony and proclamation, words of praise and thanksgiving, wonder and amazement. But even days later, on that morning when the disciples found Jesus on the beach making them breakfast on a charcoal fire there was…silence (John 21).

Perhaps when we are faced with the truest and deepest mysteries silence is the most authentic response. When our eyes come to focus on either the tragedy of suffering and sickness, brutality or death, or when they see the hope which answers all that, the light that shines in darkness, our tongues rightly go still as voices choke on swallowed words.

“Shhh. Let’s don’t talk.” Let’s just be here, together, in life for as long as we can, in death whenever it comes, in resurrection. Let’s look. Let’s listen. But, “Shhh.” Maybe Dad was teaching me something very important that night, one last lesson, a lesson I have as yet to learn.