Thinking about Uncle Charlie’s death, I find myself wishing I could go out into the country to look above in the night’s sky to force my eyes open the way Adam and Eve are supposed to have after they ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. After all, the knowledge that we possess that allegedly the other animals don’t is the knowledge that one day each of us shall die… I imagine myself (because I am in town and looking outside wouldn’t create that luminous night) wondering if the night sky is full or empty, and where Uncle Charlie is now.
His loss is especially poignant because he was mentally handicapped, and could not have lived outside a hospital. If I judge the Universe empty, one soul is no more, is missing tonight, as John Donne says “Each man’s death diminishes me.” More, Uncle Charlie wasn’t really able to discover painting, literature, architecture or the other things that make life interesting. He also had no ability to have a wife or children. His life on earth was incomplete, and without a God always remains so.
In the Night’s imaginary quietude with the cool breeze and the crickets chirping, I feel a pain in my heart–just as my mom periodically cries over Uncle Charlie’s death–and he was the first of his siblings to die. It is his suffering she cannot bear–she wonders if life gave much of itself to Uncle Charlie. I know she always wondered how the minister’s well-meant “fullness of life” applied to a man with Uncle Charlie’s disability.
Charlie believed in Jesus. He never knew much about the Trinity and never read the New Testament… and needless to say I never discussed Judaism, which I converted to, to him. Yet when I spoke to him last I told him I hoped for a great banquet like the Vikings–our Swedish ancestors–believed would exist in a place like Valhalla. Though leaving out the days spent fighting as part of the reward of the blest, I told him that nightly according to Norse mythology the blest voraciously feasted on delicious foods.
I also mentioned something I hoped for Charlie: that he have a normal brain, a brain able to communicate with others like two I hope he is with now: Grandma and Grandpa Williams. I told Charlie that two names he asked about–Uncle Carl and Aunt Florence–would also be there, and in fact all of his family. I know that the presence of the people he loves is all that Charlie wanted in death.
I told Charlie if God would let me make them, I would fix chili and a cherry pie for him in Heaven. The cherry pie would be made out of real cherries and a cookie crust. I did not think of it at the time, but perhaps they would have never-ending bottoms, so Charlie could eat the chili and pie forever… along with a never-ending coke.
I did not mention, and I suppose it would have been selfish to bother Uncle Charlie with it, that I hope that my beloved–my current crush–will be another guest at the joyous feast, and perhaps–just perhaps– he will have the marriage with me in Heaven which I have yet to have on earth.
It is also beside the point that I hope that even in Heaven there will times of solitude with me in which I sit atop a dock over a lily pond, communing with God and the Nature that exists after this world ceases to be. In the coolness of spring or warmth of summer, I will experience either God or the books I loved in this world (I am sure God allows this): The Lobster Books; The Little Princess; The Old Curiosity Shoppe; Little Dorrit; Villette; and The Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids. These books would be among many from a tote bag which would give me any book I wanted without growing or shrinking.
As for my time alone with my beloved… this is supposed to be G-rated, but I will say that though we will make physical contact (or the equivalent in Heaven), we will also spend time talking–about ourselves, each other, and the things we experienced apart from each other.
I can’t say what my evidence for what that “Great Library in the Sky,” as one of my favorite professors in college called it, is. Yet perhaps mine is as good a guess as anyone’s.
I still miss Charlie but I feel better believing he is in that place where God’s presence is felt with the clarity with which we in this world usually experience physical things. I believe in that world nothing of our material exists, but our souls, and even our pet’s souls, find the bright light of God’s shining love.