Friday, December 26, 2014

To Awaken on Saturday

The Gospels of the New Testament are rich in parables but often terse when it comes to the details of the events they describe. We're given much detail on what Jesus told his disciples in the form of prayer and advice and stories but often the events that happened are reduced to the driest accounts of their facts. A thing happened, we're told, and here's what it was.

Lazarus had been bound, hooded, and deceased for three days when Jesus told him to come out of his tomb. There's no story of resuscitation, no intervention by way of sorcery or technology, just a shout - "Come out!" - and Lazarus awkwardly groping his way back to the world of the living. What he thought and what he felt at being called back is left as an exercise to the reader.

The film Interstellar is blunt in different ways than the Bible, and the personal feeling of resurrection or something like it is explored in more detail here. When Dr. Mann, presumably the last survivor of the Lazarus missions, is awakened from his deep technological slumber he coughs, opens his eyes, and immediately weeps with joy and gratitude in the arms of his rescuers. "You have literally raised me from the dead," he says later, words that speak enough for us to know something of what happiness lives here.

I think I know something like this in my own life, in the bond I'm about to make sacramental with my bride, Sarah. I've written about her before. There was a love conceived in Sarah and me that blossomed and grew and withered and didn't quite die, but for years it fell into a sleep one breath removed from death. A year ago it woke up, and we watched the perennial buds of love grow again.

Why did we choose this baroque cycle, wandering from fascination to love to indifference to (tomorrow, God willing) the love that's stern as death? I suppose it wasn't really a choice - no sane person would choose to repeat all we've done to each other and with each other - but the accumulated knowledge we found of who we wanted to be.

I want Sarah in what I am. I want her kindness, her gentleness, her femininity, her brightness of soul, her cleverness in me. This much is true, but it's not the whole truth. More than all this, I simply want her. I want her in my life and I want to weave my life into hers.

When we dated the first time, in the twilight of our teen years as we first grappled with the problems of adulthood, I glimpsed something in her. How do I describe it? It was lovely and resistant to reduction; it was what it was. I saw Sarah for all the beauty and wonder that every human being is. But Sarah was my human, and I could do nothing honest but love her in response.

When we didn't date, I accepted that and tried to move on. We dated other people. We moved away, Sarah to Houston and me to Seattle. We continued building our lives separately, linked by the faintest bonds of friendship. There's more to the story than just this, but the tl;dr summary is that when I became Catholic it resolved the most significant extant conflict between us, and we decided to see if something more than friendship made sense. Suffice it to say it did, and I wept happy tears that our love was breathing the air of life again.

Why do I want to marry Sarah? There are many ways I could answer. I want to make her life better, to help her achieve her childhood dreams. I think she’ll make my life better. There’s no one I’d rather start a family with and see mother my children than Sarah. I love the simple joy of feeling closeness to her in body and soul. These are all true, logical, and rational, but the deepest truth is something less amenable to words. I feel a lightness in the heart, a longing deep inside, a thirst for beauty created at the thought of joining our lives together.

So Sarah is the one for me. I offer all that I am, confident of my strengths, trembling at the knowledge of my flaws, to her. I pray for intercession that I might grow to be the husband she needs and in thanksgiving that I will have her as my wife. For as long as we have to be spouses to one another, let the words of adoration, love, companionship, and caring for her always be on my tongue. My life is blessed with riches beyond measure, and the greatest of them is the woman who will soon be my wife.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Clay Lies Still, but Blood's a Rover

My brother, Matthew Atkinson, died in a bizarre and tragic accident this past weekend, on the night of June 21st. He was cleaning one of his guns after a day of honing the marksmanship he enjoyed so much. The gun fell, a bullet somehow left in the chamber misfired, and Matt happened to be in the wrong place at that one moment in time. Matt was 21 years of age, and left the world a man in love.

He was in love with nature. He loved roaming in the wild, whether it was in the deserts and woods of Arizona or the forests and mountains of Washington. On all his hikes and hunting trips and fishing trips it was clear that he saw the little intricacies in the natural world around him. He just noticed things that others didn’t, and admired things no one else saw. He was going on an internship with the Game & Fish Department this summer which would’ve taken him out patrolling and maintaining often the southwest land he loved. He breathed most comfortably when he breathed the free air away from the cities, and he set up his life so he did so, often.

He was in love with animals. He adopted a rat and a dog from the Arizona Humane Society, and loved them both dearly. His friendships with the animals in his life, whether they were my parents’ cats or butterflies on a hilltop, seemed to show something charmed about him, something that the animal world just connected with. To see Matt caring for the animals in his life was to see a man who loved all the life around him, whatever form it took.

He was in love with people. He was dearly romantic with the woman he loved, and his friendships were deep with his comrades in my family and beyond. His caring for others cast a deep net throughout his life. One Christmas he asked for no gifts, but for the budget for his gifts to be donated to charity. He gave help and food to strangers when they needed it without questioning or hedging. It was the right thing, so he did it. Matt lived with a clarity I envy toward the way he treated the people in his life, however transient his connections with them might be.

Whatever Matt wanted to do, he did. The day he turned 18 he signed the paperwork to buy a motorcycle in Prescott, and with a friend he shipped it to Phoenix in a rented U-haul trailer. It was an operation as complex and clandestine as a bank heist just out of my parents’ attention. My parents returned shocked to find the machine they forbid him to buy in the driveway, surely feeling a bit of pride along with their frustration and surprise.

I didn’t always get along with Matt, in that simple typical way of not getting along that that siblings do. It seems horrifying now that I didn’t appreciate every conversation we had, every walk through the streets and on the desert trails, and every moment we lived under the same roof since he came home from the hospital. I remember that day clearly. The December air was crisp and chilly, the concrete of the driveway cool on my feet, Matt and his twin brother looking as fragile as porcelain dolls but as alive as all the Earth. The memories stand out like afterimages in the flashbulb shock of his absence. Fortunately the good times, when we felt linked together in brotherhood and a shared bliss in observing the world, far outweigh the times we just didn’t understand each other.

There’s a temptation to think the world an evil place for allowing Matt to depart so soon. We expect so much, so used to wealth and peace as we are in this country in this time. We expect that we’ll all have decade after decade flowing lazily into the future, forgetting how patiently time waited for life to emerge and blossom on Earth, and how transient life is. It’s a privilege beyond measure to breathe a single time, and that Matt breathed for 21 years is a heroic wonder. It was a privilege to be able to call him “brother.”

Matt believed the world was good, and lived his life accordingly. To live authentically with such love for nature and people requires a belief that there’s goodness at the heart of all that is, and this is the legacy that I think Matt wants us to carry on. Look not on the strangeness and the randomness of his departure then, but on the way he touched the lives he contacted, brief as that contact was. I long to live as Matt lived, full of passion and firmness and joy. In my brothers and my parents and in me, I hope and pray that these parts of Matt may live on.