Our youngest, J., chooses to wake up between 6:30 & 6:45 AM. I’m already up by then and welcome the opportunity to get out of the house and walk down to the local elementary school. Since March, the school has been unoccupied due to the COVID-19 virus. At the beginning of the pandemic I started noticing the newspapers piling up near the entrance to the school. We are not subscribers, but I took it upon myself to gather up the discarded papers and recycle them – reading the headlines or an occasional article that piqued my interest before doing so. Later, I emailed the principal to let her know who was taking her papers. She blessed my efforts, dubbing me the elementary school’s official recycler.
On Tuesday of this week, J. and I were making our way to the school when I saw a cardinal land on a high wire singing its song. All of a sudden, I felt an immediate need to pray the prayer for the dying called A Commendation at the Time of Death found in our prayer book. There was a stillness to the air that seemed to be inviting me to ‘come along.’ There was an ineffable hope and promise that ‘all shall be well.’ Who was I to question this invitation? I prayed the prayer and kept walking, making my way to the school and the news of the day. Peace was now me and my son’s companion as we were reassured that death and life are not opposed to one another.
On Sunday, my mother-in-law asked my wife and our family to come and say our goodbyes to my father-in-law, Chuck. It was another invitation to come along, to say hello/goodbye, and to freely walk into those thin places of paradox. Unlike the cardinal, Chuck’s song was not a surprise. He’s been battling the debilitating disease of ALS for over 2 years now. Throughout these years he’s been fighting back death as best he could, but this week and for reasons only the angels know, he’s decided to acquiesce.
Before making the journey to my in-law’s home, J. needed his afternoon nap. We’re a liturgical family and like our patterns. We’re raising both J. and H. to recognize these as constants among the chaos. As is our custom, we read a few books but always end with Margaret Wise Brown’s “Goodnight Moon.” It’s always amazing to me how her words meet our son’s yawns. Each page makes their eyes grow heavy as their bodies long for the rest of their beds. This time, and as I was reading to J., I intuited that I was also reading to Chuck. I was already saying my goodbyes to him – first with Tuesday’s Commendation at the Time of Death, and now with a children’s author who has long asked little ones to go to sleep by letting go. “Let go of the moon, and the bears in their chairs.” Say goodnight to the “toy house and young mouse.” Listen to the “old lady as she whispers, hush.”
Perhaps J. was more tired than usual because he started flipping the pages to the last. He loves that final page in the book with its soft (eternal?) flame in the fireplace along with the moon and the stars begging for a final glance above – one last time before sleep. I suppose I imagined something similar for Chuck. “Release” was my new prayer companioned with peace.
“Goodnight stars. Goodnight air.”
“Goodnight noises, everywhere…
 Depart, O Christian soul, out of this world;
In the Name of God the Father Almighty who created you;
In the Name of Jesus Christ who redeemed you;
In the Name of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you.
May your rest be this day in peace,
and your dwelling place in the Paradise of God.
~The Book of Common Prayer, 464