The Knife Of God

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Yes, boy, I could sure go for some beef stew and a chicken bone. That’s it.

–Last words of Christopher Newton, whose execution by lethal injection in Lucasville, Ohio took nearly two hours (May 24, 2007)

I summon you now

Not to think of

The ceaseless battle

With pain and ill health,

The frailty and the anguish.

No, today I remember

The creator,

The Lion-hearted.

–May Sarton, from “For My Mother”

You’ve been gone for five years this morning, but if you were still here I know you’d be driving through the night, headed in my direction even as I type these words, and at some point in the next couple hours I’d expect to hear your knock at my door.

Five years ago this morning I walked out into a world without you in it for the first time, and I know how much it would pain you to know that that world has been wobbling under me ever since.

I’m not blaming you. You gave me plenty more than I needed. I watched you long enough that I should for damn sure know how to go through life with a smile on my face and enough grace, good humor, and compassion to get me through any day. And anybody who spent enough time with you and logged long hours in the hospitals where you left so many years of your life and got so many of them back should have gained enough perspective to spend every one of their remaining days counting their blessings.

It’s been really hard, though. I’m tired, and I’ve failed.

Your last words to me were, “I love you. I’ll see you soon,” and those words have haunted me. I wish you could stand here before me and take at least some of them back.

I wish there had been more, of course –of you and from you and for you. And for me. And for all of us.

Tough shit, though, which I fully realize is not a sentiment you’d ever endorse.

I remember reading something long ago by Thomas Carlyle, an essay, I think, about heroes. A hero, Carlyle said, had to be first and foremost sincere. Not merely honest or earnest, but fiercely sincere. He had to have true conviction in what he said and did and believed. And a hero had to have heart; he had to be stout-hearted, yes, and brave, but also and especially tender-hearted, pure-hearted, compassionate, and capable of real love.

I might be making this all up, or confusing my writers, or even just imagining things, although the sad truth is that I’m not having much luck making things up or imagining things anymore.

I do know, though, that using that definition, or those definitions, and virtually any other definition I can come up with, you were a hero.

My hero.

Ours.

I couldn’t afford to lose you then, and I can’t afford to lose you now, even as I seem to be losing things right and left. Including, I sometimes fear, you.

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Abel Pann

By the time he was my age he had four children and a literally broken heart.

He did what he could.

He taught wonder.

I used to sense him coiled like a discus hurler behind every one of my best intentions.

His blood was the blood that called me back to this world each time I crawled away disgusted.

His were the words of forgiveness I was always surprised to find crouched at the back of my tongue. The tenderness, unexpected, that seized me when I was in the presence of suffering or helplessness, that also was him feeling through me.

My biggest dreams were his.

He pointed out the stars, and taught me to appreciate the gorgeous example of upholstery that is a baseball mitt. The short trigger, the hatred of condescension, the intolerance of cruelty, his compassion and affection for the little guy and the underdog, all those things he gave me.

He could not, unfortunately, give me his unbridled optimism, his undying faith in human goodness, his stiff upper lip, or his genuine willingness to just let the world be the world.

But his capacity for love, his sense of loyalty, his appreciation for a good road trip, and his eagerness to play the fool –What can I say? I was his boy.

He showed me again and again how to live.

Some nights lately I’ve sat up in the middle of the night, half expecting him to knock on my door.

I’ve forgotten so much already. I’d give anything if he could come back for just one day, for just one hour, for just one cup of coffee, to help me remember.

He’s not coming back, though.

He’s waiting for me to come to him.