Decanting Souls

Jan asked, “Will we decant mom on Sunday, then?”

The week was full of boxes crammed with scrapbooks, photos, and correspondences — scattered through the house, the storage building, the pool house and workshop: detritus of Barbara K. Johnson’s life.

We laughed hard to hear little Jill write her mother in the hospital, that she neither believed her brother that mom was in the hospital, or worse, was having a baby and it was another boy.  It was funniest when Jan read, “And please do NOT call him Douglas” to the youngest, Doug.  So my dearest Jill held strong opinions at age nine and could articulately express them.

We each mutely read the neatly typed letter wherein Philip, their dad, said he had not had sexual relations with the woman he had run off with over the weekend, and he would return as pastor if all could be forgiven.

Steve quietly sorted the box with all of the bills that Phil returned unpaid to the hospital, pharmacy, and utility company after he left for good with the woman and emptied all of the accounts.

And I was struck by the probability that all great fiction, all award winning plays are barely recognizable shadows of authors’ families, or the shattered family of friends, or the shattering family at home.

And all these years later, the siblings taking cues from the astounding woman of God they had as mother, these siblings who had visited the man of unpaid bills in the nursing home as he wept and laughed with them, were choosing what will go to flame tonight in a bonfire of vanities, joys, and deep realities.  And they cho0se what to give to children and grandchildren.

Doug, who happens to be an award winning woodcarver has carried out one last wish from Nana, Barbara, and carved a final resting box for her ashes, kept safe in the plastic bag in which they were delivered over a year ago.  And on Sunday we will decant her ashes, as reverently as the siblings decanted the correspondences, savored them, laughed and wept over them.  We will decant them into Doug’s box preparing them for February when these four proud children of Barbara K Johnson will head to a windswept cemetery in South Dakot to send her ashes on a slow journey of becoming one with the dust of Alcester from whence she came.

And that will be the end of it, unless you know anything about Jesus and final banquets at the juncture of time and eternity, where we will decant life in the limited way we know it here, as an aperitif toward heaven.

Anniversaries and other ordinary days

Thirty three years ago I was dressed in an ascot and long tails.  I felt a little funny, but I was betting that french cuffs and frilly tux shirts in all sorts of colors would die sooner or later.  

I was right, thank God. 

I also had a ton of questions but I was betting on the girl who was breaking out in hives on her chest due to nerves.  I was fortunate there as well.  I had a doctor on call who prescribed beautifully and she was simply resplendent by evening.  And she was nervous because she had been engaged twice to great, godly guys (yes, I like and admire them both) — so how could she be sure?  

That was my job.  I had to be sure for two of us.  I should have had a case of nerves, but have never been smart enough to know when to do so.  God’s grace.

I am still certain.  She is pretty certain, and we are both amazed that we have lasted. persisted, grown, and (whisper this part) still in love.  

Today she sold more art, paid bills, filled out a FAFSA, fed horses, put horses on grass, opened her anniversary gift (for horses, silly) cooked dinner for us all before Brandon heads to camp as a counselor, and packed so we could spend a night in OKC before I preach on Sunday morning.  

I mowed, wrote, worked on class schedules, evaluated a couple of oil fields, memorized a sermon, rode my bike, and watched a movie with Jill.  

It — the work together — is the carbon fiber, spider silk or steel cable of life that binds it all together.  We salted it with kind messages from so many people, cheers, hugging each other, a couple of smooches, dinner with Steve who is finally closing on finishing his commission for the Sheikh.  But the fiber that binds the whole together, that makes the unshakable bond is the work together.  And that work is a sort of dance, like doing the cooking or kitchen together.  

The work is a dance.  You can be where the other isn’t, and work on what she needs next, and do what she doesn’t like to do, and finish about the same time.  

Dance.  Sometimes happy.  Sometimes sad.  Sometimes agitated (mild word rather than expletive deleted).

I like that you can dance when no one is around.  You can dance coyly with everyone watching.  You can even dance at weddings or funerals if you are slow and somber, but the fiber — the work — binds us together, binds us to the Lord of the Dance, and binds us to our time together until it ends.  

Such fetters make us rich.