My dad died in October, 1982. He died two months after his 71st birthday of Sudden Cardiac Arrest, which means that his heart suddenly quit beating.
While I didn’t mark the occasion, I have lived a few months longer than my dad.
Linda and I, along with wee Amber, had moved to Tennessee in August of that year. We lived in Casa de Magni out on Powder Branch Road in Carter County, Tennessee until the Magni arrived a year later and drove us from that little bit of paradise.
Amber and I were chasing each other in circles in the front yard when Linda called to me from the front door.
October 19, 1982.
“Your mom is on the phone.”
I left Amber to run in circles alone and walked into the house. I remember wondering why she was calling since we had only left mom and dad the day before.
“James. I have some bad news. Your father has died.”
Fast forward several days.
Casa de Magni is out in the country. While I don’t know what it is like now out there, back then the nights were dark dark. On a clear night, you could sit outside and see stars upon stars upon stars.
It was on such a night, two or three nights after burying my dad, that I took out the trash. I stopped mid-journey, my hands clutching a couple of filled garbage bags.
“I wonder where my dad is.” I thought.
I knew where his body was. It was where it still is. The city cemetery in Carrollton, Georgia. I wasn’t thinking of his body. I was thinking of him. I was thinking about the life, the self, the person…the whatever-this-is that we are…where was HE?
I still held the garbage bags in my hand as I looked up into the ink-well of a sky and thought: “Well, it’s for damn sure, he’s not up there!”
A few days later I ran into my friend and mentor, Fred Norris. For those who didn’t have the pleasure of knowing Fred with his massive personality and his thunderous laugh, well…I’m sorry for you.
He asked me how I was doing. I told him the longer version of the story I just told you.
After I spoke the dramatic conclusion of that story and admitted that I had no idea where my dad was, Fred’s laugh all but blew my wig off.
“Street,” he laughed. “You don’t know where YOU are!”
He bear hugged me and knocked me around a bit and walked off.
Flash forward several years. I was driving north on I-85 after teaching my night class at Point University. I listened to some astrophysicist on NPR as he talked about the vastness of the universe. The interviewer asked him something or other about the size of the universe or some such. I just remember what the scientist said:
“We like to think that our little planet is at the center of the universe. The problem with that is that we do not know where the center of the universe is.”
“Where is my dad?”
“Street, you don’t know where you are!”
“We don’t know where the center of the universe is.”
“Earth to Dad: Earth to Fred. Earth to Linda. Earth to myself… Can you send me your co-ordinates?”
As I write, I am sitting up in bed. My laptop is uh…on my lap. I just polished off my first cup of coffee and a bowl of Cheerios. The wee hounds are lying on a stack of blankets that are on a cedar chest at the foot of my bed. The rest of my house, my neighborhood, my city, my state, my country is all around me.
ALL around ME.
I am at the center of everything that exists around me.
Jim Street. Ground Zero.
And all this time you thought YOU were Ground Zero of all that is.
In this realm, I could send you my coordinates and you could take a pin and stick me right in the map at any given time.
I bring that up because we seem to think that because we ‘know’ that wherever we are is at the center of all things and that everything else whirls around us, that we know where we are.
In a sense we do. Latitude. Longitude. Time of day.
But in a sense we don’t because we don’t really know where ‘are’ is.
Paul put it better than I can. “Now we look through a glass darkly.’ What does that mean? It means that at present we look into a mirror and see an enigma. It is not as if we do not know anything. But it is the case that anything that can be reflected in a mirror is characterized as enigma. Quadruple that enigma quality for things that cannot be reflected in a mirror.
We know a little about things but the enigmatic quality of reality is far, far larger than our knowledge of things.
We live in Mystery. And the psychological and emotional (at least) result of that is Wonder.
How do we find the longitude and latitude of a Mystery? Can you send me your co-ordinates?
I am seven years old. I am sitting in Sunday school. Ms. Louise Traylor is my teacher. She is ancient. She points to a picture of these hands in space. The earth is suspended just above the palms of those giant hands. “Have you children heard this song on the radio: ‘He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands?’” I had heard the song. (Although it is an African American spiritual, it was first recorded ini 1927. An English singer named Laurie London made it a hit in 1957.)
I look at the picture and thought, “Wait! What about the rest of the heavens? Are they in His hands too?”
What was that humble servant of God doing in that moment? She was shaping my imagination. She may have thought that she was simply teaching a Sunday school lesson published by Standard Publishing. But, no….she was shaping my imagination.
And it’s a good thing too. After all faith is inseparable from imagination. It would not be a stretch for me to say: “Without imagination, you cannot please God.”
Tell me about the birth of Jesus. Tell me about the cross. Tell me about the resurrection. Tell me about the throne of God in the New Jerusalem, the River of Life, with the Tree of Life whose leaves are meant for the healing of the nations… and my imagination runs wild.
“He will wipe away every tear from eyes! There will be no more suffering or pain. Death will be no more!”
I weep for joy.
By imagination you are saved.
John Lennon…what a paltry hack.
Where is Linda? I look across the room and see the plastic box. I have placed it on a table. I have surrounded it with pictures: her grandmother, her dad, her sister. Her little lighthouse lamp is there. Her little critters surround the lighthouse. Jars of shells she collected on the many beaches. It’s a crowded little mess of stuff she loved.
I get up in the morning. The first thing I do is walk over to the box and do what I did when I would wake up in the morning with her arm close at hand. I pat it two or three times..
I’m turning a corner. At first, just after she died, I felt as if she were missing out. The Christmas lights…the time with family riding through the Gray Fairgrounds.
I imagine differently now.
I’m missing out.
“On what?” I ask with trash bags in hand.
I can only imagine.