I didn’t believe it was you when I first saw the signs. The missed memories were small, so slight they were unnoticed. I forget. I get agitated. I make mistakes, lose things, get mixed. I was like everyone else who loved: I wanted more.
I began what is still the dismal existence of a loved one struggling with you and your fingers wrapping and stealing things from my father. I started to look at all those yesterdays, fading in my own memory, and I grabbed for them. I called them back the way a grandparent calls for their only child’s offspring when, because of intuition, they know that was the last visit. The rides in my dad’s white van and then the brown van. There was a black van too, I think. I sniffed for the smell of worms and dirt when we went fishing, when I was so small I felt nothing but incompetence because I couldn’t do what my father found so easy. I listened to the sound of his laughter, not just his laughter, but the way it sang like a Delta blues man. I looked at the crinkle that was his smile. I wanted that grin to be mine.
You pulled me from my memories. Reminded me that you hadn’t won yet. That yours was a most sinister work because no one knew, and no one knows, when your job would be done with my dad’s brain and body. You shouted in the tone that was once was my dad’s. It was his voice, and it wasn’t. And the reality of my life—the lives of my brothers, the lives of our aunts and our extended loved ones—is that you and dad are dancing. And his feet are clipping and stumbling under what was once his best song.
You gave him pain and depression at what he can no longer command. You made him mad at everybody and nobody. You snatched his ability to attend to the mundane affairs of bills and greetings and polite conversations. You made him unpredictable so that he couldn’t travel, so that he couldn’t go home and live on his own and be alone.
I hate you. You’ve taken so much and you’re not even finished. You have hardly done to me, to us, what I know you’ve done to others. But know that I’m not alone in seeing your memory-soaked hand clenching and withdrawing from the collective worlds which have been ours. I hear the prayers of my friends in my ears.
Roland and the way his hand pressed into my shoulder just yesterday, the words he prayed, the faith he had for me, even though today’s conversation with dad tried hard to erase my faith and my friend’s. Libby and her careful way of saying just enough to express a deep understanding, a selective and prophetic care, and how she brings a prayerfulness whenever she approaches. Lisa’s powerful prayers that the ground I’m on is sure and steady and the way she keeps praying, the mirror she is to people I see and don’t see. Lauren’s steady gaze when she asks me respectfully and compassionately how I’m really doing and dealing with the junk you’ve thrown at us. Byron and his admonition to take care of myself, to do what I need, to care for me so that I’m not surprised by my own breaks and broken places. Lucy and the regular ways she brings me before the Presence, keeps me there, helps me see me and see truth and prepare to live from more than pain but love. Winston, his faithfulness and his ability, through history, presentness, and vision for what’s to come, and how he keeps at the work of partnering with God to help make me good through the terror of unknown trials related to you.
Your hand is hard. But I do not envy you. Because you, partner of all that is sinful, will have a lot of giving to do. Diseases like you must hold the things you take and you must return them. So, my faith, sometimes thin as cracking leaves at autumn’s end, feels tiny. And even if it disappears to an invisible quality, it will not leave. It will not depart. You cannot take it from me. You cannot steal it the way you have my father’s best qualities. You cannot leave in faith’s place depression and sadness the way my father struggles now, even without the words to give to his interiority. I’m looking at the collective faith of an increasing cloud of witnesses, and while your reach is long, it cannot capture all my friend’s strengths. There are some things you cannot do.