The Communion of the Saints

Sometimes the things I most want to remember are the hardest to write about. I started this blog as a reminder of the promise I made to dad after his death: not to despair. But I’ve written very little about him, and more specifically, his continued presence in my life.

I’ll start with a story from my birthday last year. Dad had been gone about a month and a half. I was sitting at my desk working and listening to Bruce Springsteen. Nothing makes me feel closer to dad than music, and Bruce’s songs are wound deeply into my childhood and memories of him. Before I was even engaged, I knew I wanted “Atlantic City” as our father-daughter dance. But on that first birthday without him, I didn’t play that song.

For some reason that day I found myself craving a latte. I don’t normally go out of my way to get coffee, but it was my birthday. Still feeling vaguely guilty about my impulsive trip, I spent another five minutes gathering up library books so I could at least take care of an errand while I was out. I got in my truck, turned it on, and “Atlantic City” was playing on the radio.

You can call it coincidence, but I have not the smallest doubt I heard from dad on my birthday.

Only two days later, I was in Washington State on the day we planned to scatter dad’s ashes. When I first heard what dad wanted done with his ashes, I was upset. I think I imagined scattering them in some beautiful, serene location. Maybe a beach in Ireland—something that appealed to my literary sensibilities. But that’s not at all what dad had in mind. He was an ironworker, and he poured so much of himself into the work. I think he felt a construction site was one of the few places he belonged. He wanted that reflected in his last wishes, and wanted one of his best work buddies to do the actual scattering.

So it was all arranged, and I flew out to Seattle to be there. Several months before, I had subscribed to a “Poem of the Day” email, most of which I deleted without reading. But on the day of the scattering, this is the poem that showed up in my inbox:

Work Boots: Still Life
BY JIM DANIELS

Next to the screen door
work boots dry in the sun.
Salt lines map the leather
and laces droop
like the arms of a new-hire
waiting to punch out.
The shoe hangs open like the sigh
of someone too tired to speak
a mouth that can almost breathe.
A tear in the leather reveals
a shiny steel toe
a glimpse of the promise of safety
the promise of steel and the years to come.

Again, you can call that coincidence. I call it beautiful. This literary-minded daughter now can’t imagine a more fitting way to honor his ashes, or a better place to go visit him.

I could share a few more stories, ways I know dad is not gone. But they could all be explained away. If the body is all there is, my dad can never speak to me again. He’s lost except to memory. Even though I believe in life after death, the above experiences struck me as too good to be true. I expected to see him in heaven, but never imagined his continued presence in my life on earth.

I told this to my counselor, who also lost his dad at a young age. He had similar stories of his dad’s continued involvement in his life. He said we’re participating in what Christians through the centuries have called the communion of the saints. Now whenever you talk about saints, Protestants like me tend to get fidgety. I diplomatically said I’d never thought about it that way, and that I would have to do some reading. But my counselor said not very much has been written on this subject. (After trying to write this blog post, I understand why.) But the basic point is that believers past and present are united in Christ.

I’m not sure how many of the departed saints choose to speak through Bruce Springsteen. But I’m glad my dad is one of them.

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