Standing in front of the strips of paper I read the directions again: write the names of the saints in your life. The names of the saints that have died and gone before us on the white paper. Use the strips of colored paper to write the names of the saints in your life that are still with us. I began writing.
I wanted it to be something I did quickly before the next thing on my growing “to-do” list that day. I could not. Here in the space between Chapel and the refectory, and on my hurried way to the library, this request moved me outside of the carefully accounted for and scheduled moments of my day. I lost track of the slips. Name after name. Moment after moment.
I put down the marker, and held time still with my breath as I remembered standing in deafening silence surrounded by life and yet alone with death — unable to move out of the between and back into time.
I am standing in front of her fresh grave. We buried her exactly a week after I birthed her still body. In all respects it was a glorious sunny mild November day. I was told later that an eagle flew overhead right as the silence fell. The silence that deepened my numbness.
The moments I had not been able to imagine had come to pass — the awful processional out into the world Emily wouldn’t know. First she was carried by her father in that tiny casket step-by-step down the church aisle, then the drive to the cemetery. We survived watching that tiny pink casket go into the ground next to her great-grandparents. We listened numbly to prayers.
In the first second of quiet we put single roses on top of that casket before it was buried in earth. Emily’s older sister, Megan, gave me the gift of being her 4-year-old self when nobody could convince her to give up the rose she was holding. In that moment I wanted to take her and gather her in my arms and twirl her around and around until we were both dizzy. I wanted to be in her moment of joy in the beauty of the rose.
Instead I continued to stare at her sister’s fresh grave–the still green grass, the black dirt, and pink. An eternity of quiet; holding my breath on the threshold of living into a reality of “forever changed.”
Just mere hours ago I had been encouraging the stream of people entering the church to look at her: “she’s so beautiful.” My heart ached to hold onto that beauty like a 4-year-old with her hands on a rose stem.
“I can’t do this anymore” I said not realizing my thoughts had broken the silence.
“Then don’t,” my mom said as she took my arm and gently guided me across that threshold.
I wiped my wet eyes and gulped in deep breaths of fresh air as I made my way from one Wartburg building to the next attempting to return to place and time — 13 years of living later — on my way to the library and the life of to-do lists. A glance at my watch claimed the moments connected in minutes.
The next week in chapel names were read, candles were lit, Gospel was spoken, and those slips of paper — white and colored — hung together in sunlit windows and air stirred them as if with the dance of eternal life.