A bear lives on the shelf of my bookcase in the den. He is a threadbare bear. His once fluffy coat is gone and what remains feels like burlap. He is stuffed with straw. He is missing an ear.
I believe he was born in Germany. I believe he was brought to America by a war-worn grunt who had the stuffing knocked out of him somewhere between the coast of northern France and Berlin. The soldier brought him as a gift to his three-year old son whom he had never seen.
The soldier died years ago and the bear he brought to the boy is an old man now.
The boy? The boy died in 1966 when he was 22 years old. Cerebral hemorrhage… just as he caught a basketball and started to dribble it down the court.
He was just starting when he dropped dead.
Today marks the 56th anniversary of his death
The bear’s eyes, which are nothing but dark threads, stare wistfully into space. His expression never changes. He is a sad little bear because he has lost his boy. For him, the boy is forever young.
No one ever told the bear the truth.
The bear adventured with the boy. He was the boy’s right hand. The bear dreamed with the boy as they sailed the slippery surfaces of sleep The bear broke bread with boy and loved those times when the boy, being a boy, threw him high into the air and caught him as he fell.
But one day the boy stopped.
He had outgrown the bear.
I cannot fix the date because I wasn’t born yet. I can’t tell you the anniversary of the bear’s grief. I just know, as far as the bear was concerned, the boy died long before the boy died.
No one ever told him the truth but I think he must be a wise old bear.
He’s pushing 80 and has seen a million losses in his life. He has watched his own plush surface drop away. He has seen the boy’s dad die and then his mom. He knows how it feels to live in a grief-filled house. He has lost many homes because he was moved many times. He spent years in a dark box in a hot attic. I found him and brought him home. And now, his distant eyes watch me.
Like most of us, the bear has learned a lot by living. No one told him the truth. He learned it the hard way.:
All of God’s creatures are meant for love.
And all creaturely love attaches.
And all love attachments are joined to that which passes.
Even tiny losses grieve.