CS Lewis’ A Grief Observed was necessary work that arose from his personal sorrow. Grief needs to be acknowledged, expressed with authenticity. Grief demands it. The post below isn’t designed to evoke sympathy, certainly not pity, but rather an attempt to be loyal to the voice that sadness wants to speak.
Digital Diary, May 24, 2020.
I just can’t outrun the sadness. I let R Rohr work his magic on me two early mornings in a row on the back porch. He’s good about redirecting my vision toward the joy of living in the present. It worked well . . . until this afternoon. My good colleague and friend invited me up to the office this afternoon, as he was packing up. It wasn’t a matter of deciding to go or not, I knew I needed to. He’d shown me the honor of inviting me to be present for the hard thing. And so I went. I wanted to go. But as I arrived at the school, I felt the now familiar sadness growing in me — just from approaching the campus I’ve loved for decades.
I first arrived there in 1957, when I was two years old. Of course I don’t remember the arrival; it was the year my dad started teaching at the university. He retired from there in 1993. In many ways I’d grown up at the school. My friend’s young sons who sometimes race down the halls probably won’t remember it. Perhaps that’s just as well. Decades of connection for me, of love and adoration for the place. Five family members with degrees from the school. A total of four immediate family have been on the faculty. I was a student there in the 70’s, a faculty member for a couple years in the 80’s as I started my teaching career. And there my career in teaching will end next May, after a 25 year run at the beloved school.
As I arrive on campus today, a place that has brought me so much purpose and joy through the years, it feels sad. Very sad. I went to my office first to do a couple things, both wanting and dreading to see my friend. Before long, I go down the hall, and there he is packing away the life he’s invested with us. We talked a while about good times and sad things. A good conversation. Understanding words. In a bit I stand to leave, realizing I need to give him time to do his dismantling work. He asks to hug me: social distancing usurped by the mutual need to mark the moment with a ritual of friendship. And so we hugged. “I love you,” we both said. He’ll be ok. He’s among the fortunate who has found another teaching job — a place to move his books. God bless him.
I go back to my office. Realizing that in less than a year I’ll be packing up, too. What does a retiring Old Testament professor do with shelved tools of the trade? How does one box up a terminated deanship? A career that feels cut short. A school for ministers closed — not worth the investment. Not what the denomination wants anymore. It feels like a piece of flesh being stripped away. A limb severed. A treasured art work wheeled to the dumpster.
But I’ll read Rohr again in the morning. And I’ll remember the 400+ graduates who are humbly serving Christ around the world now because of what we did. Remembering the great gift entrusted to us, that we carefully passed on to others. And I’ll buck up, until goodbye with the next colleague. Another hug. Another pound of flesh. Another amputation. Another trip to the dumpster. That’s the way grief works. Until eventually all the goodbyes are said, all the old exams shredded, all the books given away or packed up for who-knows-what purpose.
And there will be one last look at the Window, whose brilliant colors never quit giving witness to mystery and hope.