Friday, January 02, 2015

What it's possible to say.

Today, we went to the funeral of a friend. He died a week ago. Since then, I have been remembering this friend in little fragments: the time he and I danced at the wedding of our mutual friend. His vast collection of black shirts. The music he loved and played while he worked. His beloved dogs. A translation of a poem, a set of photographs, a recording. The roomful of birds he kept.

I've been thinking for awhile about whose right it is to voice shared experiences. This is the kind of thinking that can put one right off writing: what if my own reckoning of the experience bleeds into yours? if my imagining of your experience is a kind of appropriation? There's, maybe, some kind of non-negotiable overlap between what I remember and what you remember and which we know our words, yours, mine, shall never approach. It's not truth, perhaps, but it's something like truth. It's a stillness. It's ineffable.

I have long kept this passage from 2 Corinthians (ch. 12) near to hand, in which Paul says
I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. 
And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) 
How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
This idea, that there is experience that cannot be voiced, of which words are disallowed, haunts me. It is a kind of radical silence and silencing. Or another way to say it is: words cannot approach it, the experience.

Our friend is gone. Whatever I might have said to him must be said by me to a silence. Whatever I thought might still be possible to say, to do, to be, is not possible any longer. But here I am, still thinking of words I might say to him, and of him.

Today, at the funeral, four women spoke: two friends, two sisters. I felt a gratitude overwhelm me, for the ways the two friends used words to summon him up for us. To remind us of the wholeness of a person, the ways that person we might know, day to day--the way he laughed, the greetings and farewells, the gifts, the chat--was not the sum of that person--that a good friend might, over a lifetime, become almost entirely visible to us, but that it would take that, a lifetime, to know the whole of a person.

Our friend is gone. That loss is speakable and unspeakable: nothing we can say or think or feel will bring him back to us. But our words and thoughts and sorrow summon him up for us, summon him so that we can remember, at least in part, whom we have lost.

for Jonathan


  1. Gorgeous, Lisa. Thanks for saying what is nearly impossible to say.

  2. This gave such chills reading it. Your beautiful soul shining through each word.

  3. A beautiful remembrance of a beautiful person.

  4. 1. Really beautiful tribute. I hope you're finding peace this week.

    2. Amen and amen to thoughts on the right to writing experience and the unspeakable.



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