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Good Letters

ClotheslineThe wind whips through the quilts and sheets on our clothesline, cracking now and then like a benign thunderclap, tugging at the clothespins I inherited from my grandmother’s childhood farm. My daughter and I watch them as we swing together on the playset her father built a few seasons ago, before she was born.

This spring morning my father calls to tell me that his mother, my grandmother, who passed down those clothespins, has fallen asleep.

“Do you mean she died?” I say, knowing the answer but wanting him to say it clearly.

“Yes.”

We don’t say much after that. It’s not as if this was unexpected. She is ninety-three and has been dying slowly since her kidneys failed months ago. But there is a finality to it, my last grandparent, the last connection to another generation, as if slowly, my family, my history, my memories are being whittled down from top to bottom.

This is how it should be, I know. But it hits me in a way I’m not expecting.

My toddler—having, thankfully, no empathy for my sadness—wants me to push her. She grips onto the chains, swinging in the stiff heavy way of a child who doesn’t yet have the confidence or coordination to lean back, to pump her legs into the glory of the air.

Usually on afternoons like this, I hear that glory in the sounds of the items on the clothesline being tossed about in the wind. I feel the glory of the calm and love that exists between my child and me when we hold on to one another, pushing back and forth, learning the world and each other through the touch of hands, grass, and dirt.

Normally, on days like these, that glory is light and lovely. But today as I swing my daughter after hearing of my grandmother’s death, it is the phrase the weight of glory, that keeps returning to me, flapping back and forth like the items on the clothesline. “This light, temporary nature of our suffering is producing for us an everlasting weight of glory, far beyond any comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

When the call comes that my grandmother has died, a week after my older sister has had a stroke, and months after my dad has endured rounds of chemo for cancer, the only accurate description for the way the grief feels is not light, but a physical weight that pulls me farther down into the earth. If glory has weight heavier than grief or suffering, it must be truly mountainous.

C.S. Lewis describes something like this heavy glory in The Great Divorce; the stuff of heaven is so heavy, so real, thick, and sharp that it hurts our transparent bodies to walk upon the heavenly grass. I think there is a glory attached to grief that I’m only beginning to understand.

My grandmother was well acquainted with grief, having survived two husbands and being the last of her four siblings to die. She knew what it was to outlive most of the people she loved and who knew her well. My grandmother is now free of the lightness of suffering and will be burdened with the weight of glory. I hope her glory is heavy now.

While my daughter is acquiring the early sense of glory when everything seems imbued with pure joy (or pure sorrow), I am trying to navigate the in-between, longing for glory in a youthful sort of way, to touch and taste beauty, while also encountering more grief and loss as I near forty.

In the meantime, I watch my baby navigate the beginnings of her world; the thing we have in common is that we learn so much by falling. When she points to the swing beside her I obey and swing too, even as it creaks beneath my weight.

I know that if I live long, I will be acquainted with yet more sorrow but also that glory will one day feel heavier than grief. But being with my daughter keeps me present during these glory days of spring, days in which the stays on the clothesline break free and a quilt escapes, and I wonder for a moment if it will float into the ether, untethered by the stiff clasp of metal and wood.

 

Image above is by Ben Seidelman, licensed by Creative Commons.


The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Written by: Christiana N. Peterson

Christiana N. Peterson grew up in Texas and received a PhD in Creative Writing from St. Andrews University in Scotland. She has published pieces on death, fairytales, and farm life at Art House America, her.meneutics, and cordella. She lives with her family in the rural Midwest where she is learning the joys and challenges of church and farm life. You can find more of Christiana’s writing on her blog at christiananpeterson.com and follow her on twitter.

  • Katie Munnik

    This is so very eloquent. Beautifully put.

  • Peggy Rosenthal

    Beautiful, Christiana. I’m wondering if somehow the “weight of glory” is counterbalanced by a mysterious divine lightness that holds us up even when we feel we’re sinking. I’ve been reading theologian Karl Rahner; he speculates that when Jesus ascended into heaven, he took our whole humanity with him–all the heavy stuff of human life with which he joined himself through his earthly life.

    • Peggy, your comments always push me gently further and deeper in my thinking. Thank you! And I love that idea that Jesus took not only his divinity but his humanity to heaven. I need to ruminate on that for a while!

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