dear jackson, there is no bridge but the thread of patience

Dear Jackson,

This is the first day you will be back in our home; this is the last letter I will write to you here.

I want to tell you something about hope. I want to write you something beautiful. I want to do a work of a kind, something people will reference again and again, words that stick to insides and remain haunting the corners of a soul for years:

And then the word passed between them that made all clear. Isn't it pretty to think so? It will happen to you. You don't think it will, but it will happen to you. And that's what I'm here to tell you. In this world there is a kind of painful progress. If anyone should ask me why I say I think it's pretty, I think it's pretty I reply. This is not a love story. Breathe! Through the ivory gate. Of bodies changed to other forms, I tell.

These are the lines, Jack. Some of them. I can tell you where each are from, strewn there akimbo, a kind of prosody of collective memory. These are the lines that stick to my insides and I want to write you something like them. I want that so much, I don't think I'll end up doing it. You can't want for that sort of thing, it happens off stage in accident of pen, in letters found centuries later, in the record of our neglects to have seen at the time the beauty there.

And the beauty is. And the beauty is.

Another line.

Jacks, your story is entering a kind of quiet, the ark of us three, days in rooms previously only familiar to you through sound and tilt of self, the narration of your mother pacing across wood floors mid-afternoon, telling you about the philosophy of disagreement, how we handle information we don't believe to be true.

"You can never go anywhere without his oxygen. You can never go anywhere without his pulse oximeter."

The person supplying your medical equipment said this to your mom and I a few days ago. We smiled politely back, looked at each other, looked back at him. He's not familiar with you, Jack. He reads tracheostomy in a case report and thinks it means a whole host of things that for you it doesn't. He was a bit flustered, too, with how much about you we knew.

We knew how many milliliters of breastmilk you take through your feeding tube and at what rate. We knew the difference between you being on oxygen flow with humidification and being on a vent. We knew what you actually needed with you at all times—or, in your case, within reasonable reach—and we knew the unique position you are in. You are, as one of your nurses put it, "The ideal candidate for growing out of a trach."

We know these things Jack. We've spent around forty days in these rooms learning you and learning what you need. Yesterday, your mom and I felt your chest, the small vibration in your lungs, and looked at each other knowingly. It's the season for congestion, which isn't good your trach, so we sanitized the side table, laid out the supplies, divided the wells of sterile water and cleanser, propped you up on a pillow, and forty seconds later you had a new trach tube placed where the old one had been.

Revision in the text!

Yet another line.

I wrote the above earlier yesterday and stopped. Something felt wrong in the meter of it and going back through I can see what it was. I can see myself for who I am. Jacks, it may be the will of God that the hardest thing you will ever know is the mortality of your parents. That's a harder truth to confront than you'll think when you first read this, I suspect. But that is the way of things. That it is the way of things is the hardest part. I started writing you a letter that placed your mom and I at the center of your care and the center of your world while the Good Shepherd faced away from me in your crib.

Would you believe me, Jack, if I told you that for the many weeks we have kept the icon of him in your crib, I have heard him more than once say, "Put me where I can see him."

Wait, let me take a step back. Let me actually confess. A little while ago your mom and I stopped watching a TV show because there was a segment making fun of fundamentalist charismatics. The critique was appropriate, was fair, but something was off about it. She and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what made us so uncomfortable until, a few hours later, we saw it for what it was: "They don't know who we know."

It was an altogether factual dismantling of some serious problems, but it lacked a kind of truthfulness. It's one thing to call fraud, it's another to call fraud because you care about Jesus.

The details of which show it was is not important, what is important is the conviction. Conviction is a personal thing, Jack. Not every Christian shares the same one. In fact, I happen to believe very much the Holy Spirit sometimes likes a diversity in our convictions, even our disagreement about them. (I'm getting off track here, I know.)

This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.

Another line.

Jackson, whose name means God has been gracious, I tried to write a post without acknowledging the real undercurrent of these forty days, the real reason nurses and doctors and medical supply personnel marvel: because they encounter in you that person we know.

I've been thinking about a poem of Charles Tomlinson, called "Eden." (These, the last lines I'll share.) At its end, Tomlinson is recounting our attempts to return to that forgotten place:

There is no
    Bridge but the thread of patience, no way
But the will to wish back Eden, this leaning
    To stand against the persuasions of a wind
That rings with its meaninglessness where it sang its meaning.

There's a lot happening in these lines, Jacks. The sorts of things that happen over years and decades. Meaning is a shifting thing, and what these lines meant to me five years ago is different and yet the same as they mean to me now. Hope, Tomlinson suggests, is all there is to do. Wait it out. Wait out the disappointment of a world that is not Eden. Wait out and wish. Wish back that paradise.

Wishing. Is that what we did for those twenty weeks before you were born? Were all those prayers for your complete healing just wishes? I imagine it looks that way to some people. I imagine it looks that way even to some people who have faith. I imagine they spend time when they least expect to be doing so wondering if all they had been doing was wishing, like children, on falling stars and clover leaves.

I don't have an answer, Jack. That's the hard truth of it. I don't have an answer except that we prayed the way God told us to and we didn't stop after you were born. We prayed our way into your tracheostomy and your feeding tube. We prayed our way through learning how to take care of you. We prayed our way through countless conversations and bedside diagnoses and doubts and fears.

"Put me where I can see him."

The Good Shepherd and I don't talk much these days. We're working on it, I think. I'm working on it, I think. There is still so much about God I do not know. But I know the Good Shepherd walked us into the midst of this, out on these waters of faith that your life is as rich and full and abundant as he intended and intends, and when we wavered and wondered and wanted to stop, he called out, "Do not be afraid. It is I."

Maybe I don't know who I know, Jack. Maybe that's the part of your parents' mortality that is the hardest to hear. But there is a truthful way of telling your story, behind the facts of the events.

Here is a truth I know: the Good Shepherd keeps his eyes on you.

Consider the lilies.

I know. Another line. It's from the Gospel reading the day you were born.

His eyes is on the sparrow.

Yet another.

And I know he watches me.

Do I know?

There's a factual way of telling this story and there is a truthful one.

Jack. Here is the truth: there is no bridge but the thread of patience. God doesn't let us just be done. There is no arriving at one point and saying it is satisfied. There is always but one more thing. The beauty is. The beauty is, Jack. This is the beauty: that the beauty is.

I'm losing the threads and this is bleeding into the form of fiction. Here, let me try one last time:

What I want you to know most in this world is that not one thing is ever lost. What I want you to know is how there is an accounting for everything. I want you to know that your mom and I have met more nurses and doctors and servers at restaurants who tell us we are so happy and so kind in the midst of so much and that maddening reminder of my mother has never made more since than now: always be ready to give a reason for the hope in you.

Sometimes I don't know who I know, Jack, but I do know I can trust him. I know I can trust him with you. I know he sees you. I know there is no walking with him without the thread of patience. I know I can't see how all of this is working together, piece by piece, to draw people to himself, but I know it is. I know this is not a wish in vain. I know that in the foundations of the world, in the fabric of all that is, there is one constant and one alone: the wish to united to him. The wish to be whole in him. The beauty is, Jack. He is the beauty.

What have I said here? This is the last public letter and I have monologued about things that matter maybe only to me, that reflect the unpracticed work of typing out words these past weeks.

I look into your eye, Jack, and I see the whole of all that is and has been and shall be. I look into your eye and I see him, looking back at me. We're working on talking. I'm working on talking. We'll get there. He and I find each other eventually. We always do. He finds us all. That's another hard thing to learn, too.

Jackson, whose name means God has been gracious, here is the truthful way of telling this story. No matter how often your father doesn't understand Jesus, doesn't want to talk to him, doesn't want to deal with him, this is what you should know: nothing compares to knowing Jesus and Jesus wants everyone to know him.

He and I still have some talking to do about the cost of that work.

He reminds me often he knows something about the cost.

You are beautiful, Jackson David, and you are made in the image and likeness of the Good Shepherd. There is no bridge but the thread of patience Jack, to walk beside him in each season, sometimes a little behind, sometimes beside, talking when you can.

Remember that, sometime, when you think prayer is a wish. Trust me. I know him.


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