Sunday, November 22, 2009

In Sure and Certain Hope

In Sure and Certain Hope
by William J. Brazill

The funeral was held in a small church in a small town in rural Fauquier County, Virginia. The sun shone brightly that day, but it did not warm the earth.

His father had died suddenly. No warning. No illness diagnosed. No doctor’s visits. Just a 911 call that brought help too late. No time for goodbyes.

“Goodbyes?” he asked himself. Even if there had been time, would the words have been spoken? Or would too many years of disappointment and resentment and recrimination have censored any such words, a personal history unconquered even by the imminence of death?

He remembered their last phone conversation. Three months ago. Just words, fragments of statements about the weather and “how are you?”, “how’s work?” punctuated by long silences. Just ice cubes clattering in an empty glass. Two human beings at the polar ends of unforgiving emotional tautness.

The church was Episcopalian-unadorned, its windows plain-glassed, its pews fitted with velvet pads that assured no one in the congregation would feel any discomfort. The rector gave a eulogy also designed to assure no one would feel any discomfort. Maybe something about death as the fulfillment of life. He could not really remember just what the rector had said, probably because he did not half listen. He was thinking of his flight back home.

Afterwards, people gathered, an ancient ritual of the living remembering in the face of death. It seemed that everyone there was elderly, slowed by incapacity, foraging in their memories to find meaning. He did not converse with them; he just listened.

One older woman struggled toward him, her cane probing the space ahead of her for assurance. “Your father was a wonderful man,” she said by way of greeting. She followed with words that told of his kindnesses, his generosity, his unfailing charity. Her voice carried the conviction of something deeper than affection. Her words, her gestures, her eyes said she loved his father in ways he did not, ways that to him felt alien and strange. Her words mysteriously had an effect, as if somehow leveling the ruins that lay between him and his father, leaving a space to be probed. Her words created a circle around him that slowly drew him into the memory of his father, that embraced him and united the two in ways never expected.

He forgot about time, about his flight. Other words rose to his consciousness: “The night is advanced, the day is at hand.” Maybe these came from the reservoir that lies deeper than memory. Or maybe they were words the rector had used in his father’s funeral service. He did not know. Now abruptly aware of the darkness, he went out into the yard and stood and stared at the fluid cobalt sky that hovered just over the tops of the mountains. A bright star shone just above the horizon. Was it the morning star or the evening star? He did not know.

William Brazill lives in northern Virginia on the banks of the Potomac River, where he writes fiction and watches the water flow by.