a death of my unconscious

My friend Melinda McDonald, reading my post of yesterday, a World AIDS Day tribute (reposted from December 1, 2016), really, a poem in commemoration of my brother Wayne and his courageous facing of his dying and death at the insidious hand of AIDS, wrote to me, in part: How you have been formed in the refining fires of love and loss and grief. These are what make us what we are, hopefully better and more pure of heart.

On this morning’s reflection, I realize that I read her words as a question – How have you been formed in the refining fires of love and loss and grief? – and recognize the irony that Melinda’s comment stirred and brought to light (to life?) something, a thought, an idea that, doubtless, for some time, since Wayne’s death in 1995, had lain in the recesses of my unconscious. That is, what happens after people die; not only to them, but for those who live on?(1)

I responded to Melinda, writing (again, now it is clear to me something I had been pondering unawares, but now, due to her gracious word, has died to my unconscious, flowering fully in the light and life of my consciousness): Wayne’s death has taught me that grief – though, yes, there are stages – has no end. I will mourn his death until I die. Something else I believe I have learned… I used to think that when a person died s/he remained frozen in time (that is, as s/he was at the time of death) in the memories of living loved ones. In Wayne’s case, I, amazingly, have discerned that he has continued to be and to become – perhaps, yes, as I would have imagined and envisioned his development; nevertheless, o’er the years, I have heard him speaking to me of things in my ongoing experience. Perhaps, for me, this is proof, tho’, by faith, I need it not, of the life everlasting.

Thank you, Melinda. Thank you, Wayne. Thank you, God.

Wayne & me

Footnote:

(1) In this, I think of the Apostle Paul’s grand assurance to the living both about those who have died and those who live on: We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord for ever. Therefore encourage one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4.13-18).

Photograph: Wayne and me, c. 1956/7

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a World AIDS Day tribute (reposted from December 1, 2016)

WRA 1976

Wayne Roberts Abernathy, December 21, 1950 – March 20, 1995

numbered among the 1st generations of martyrs slain
by a killer, then, by most, barely known,
tho’ still, by some, bravely named,
Wayne,
with mind and heart, soul and spirit,
weathered the firstly gradual, then rapaciously fleet
& inexorable descent
into death’s shadow;
yet neither cursing nor clenching closed his eyes to the enveloping darkness,
rather gazing fast at his Lord’s, his greatest Love’s Light;
Whose promise of eternal keeping
he ne’er spent a moment doubting;
tho’ some – e’en family and church,
oft misunderstanding and unaccepting –
questioned, given his “lifestyle” choosing,
which he boldly, surely knew
was no more his free electing
than any other manner of God’s creative bestowing…

in this, aye, verily, Wayne, in his dying,
damning not the imposing, yet impostering darkness,
loved, longed, lived into Life’s unbounded Light
and now forever walks by blessed sight.

today and every day, I remember…

a personal reflection for All Souls’ Day,[1] November 2, 2017

cemetery - church

For all the saints who from their labors rest,

Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,

Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest,

Alleluia! Alleluia![2]

Today and every day, I remember with gratitude, O God, alway to You…

my mother Lolita and my father William through whose loving union You granted unto me the gracious gift of life in this world…

my mother through whose unassailable forbearance, You granted unto me the inestimable gift of the revelation of unflagging faith come what may, come whene’er, come howe’er…

my father through whose fiery temperament and his paradoxically simultaneous acknowledgement and disregard for the odds against him, You granted unto me the discomfiting gift of an abiding intestinal impatience with injustice…

my brother Wayne through whose abundant compassion for all in travail, especially the disenfranchised, the least and the last, and his indomitable courage in the face of his own tribulation unto his dying day, You granted unto me the splendid gift of the vision of the noblest humanity of Your Son Jesus.

Almighty God, with whom still live the spirits of those who die in the Lord, and with whom the souls of the faithful are in joy and felicity: (I) give you heartfelt thanks for the good examples of all your servants, (especially, on this day, my parents and my brother) who, having finished their course in faith, now find rest and refreshment. May (I), with (them and) all who have died in the faith of your holy Name, have perfect fulfillment and bliss in your eternal and everlasting glory; through Jesus Christ (my) Lord. Amen.[3]

 

Footnotes:

[1] All Souls’ Day, also known as the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, following All Saints’ Day (November 1), since the 11th century, has been a part of the Western Christian calendar of observances.

[2] Words by William Walsham How (1823-1897)

[3] The Book of Common Prayer, page 503 (my emendations)

my birthday tributes

June 8, 2017. My 65th birthday. As humans reckon time, an important historical, social, and personal benchmark.

I am in a contemplative, and, in part, melancholy mood.

Yes, I am happy (not a word, given my intense early-in-life-and-unto-this-day-awareness of an inner shadowy specter of sadness, I oft employ) to be alive at this time in this world with, all things told, a preponderance of blessed memories, present contentment, and future hopes.

Yet, thinking of my immediate family, I ponder being an orphan and wonder why, beyond the reality of my being the youngest of the four, I am alive, whilst they are not.

WRA 1976

My brother Wayne. Between the two of us, the finer human being. Daily he abides with me in the harrowing (sorrowing) absence of his presence and the hallowing (sanctifying) presence of his absence. I love you, Wayne. Because of you, I have a resident, resonant sense of my better self.

Lolita & William c 1940My father, William, and my mother, Lolita. It took quite the while for me, well into my forties, to see through the veil of my childhood and adolescent disappointments, ever looming, actual and imagined, as haunting reminiscences of the deprivations of my want and need, to behold and honor how rich and real was your love for me. I love you, Dad. I love you, Momma. Because of you, I am.

today is…

World AIDS DayDecember 1

World AIDS Day

Since 1988, an annual global day of commemoration of the more than 35,000,000 people who have died from acquired immunodeficiency syndrome caused by the human immunodeficiency virus…

And a day of compassion for the 34,000,000 people living with HIV, and for their families, friends, and caregivers…

A day meant to highlight the human need to labor every day toward comprehensive prevention and treatment, and an effective cure.

Monday, March 20, 1995

Wayne Roberts Abernathy, my brother, my only sibling, and a far, far better human being and man than I ever will be, who, in this blog space, I remembered on this past Thanksgiving Day, died of AIDS.

Thinking of Wayne and all of my brothers and sisters who have died of HIV/AIDS, requiescant in pace.

Thinking of me and all who live, let us not rest until HIV/AIDS is no more.

remembering Wayne – a Thanksgiving Day reflection in recognition of World AIDS Day, December 1, 2014

The evening of that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples met were locked, Jesus came and stood among them, saying, “Peace be with you” (John 20.19).

Jesus was crucified. His disciples, loving him greatly, missing him terribly, grieve. Then Jesus, raised from the dead, appears. The disciples, initially stunned, rejoice. Their leader, teacher, and friend is back from the dead and with them. I imagine them saying, perhaps not aloud, for fear they may be dreaming, but with the silent, yet no less joyous words of their hearts: “If Jesus is back from the dead, then he won’t, can’t leave us again! He’s with us forever!”

But it’s not to be. Jesus appears, speaks a word of peace, and departs.

What peace is this? It’s not fair! It makes no sense! Yet, as another scripture counsels, this is peace “that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4.7).

What the disciples, at that moment, didn’t understand and perhaps couldn’t understand is that Jesus would be with them. Not as before, in flesh and blood. But in a different, more profoundly present way. No longer with them, face-to-face, side-by-side, but rather, by and through Spirit, in them. As close as a heartbeat. As near as breath. As spontaneous as thought and memory. As immediate as feeling and impulse. The disciples would experience hitherto unknown fellowship, oneness, peace with Jesus. A peace surpassing understanding; beyond human intellect to comprehend or human ingenuity to create.

Wayne & meTwenty years ago, next March, my brother Wayne died. I so loved and have missed him. I love and miss him still. O, how I wish he was back from the dead and with me.

That cannot be. But Wayne is with me. Not as before, in flesh and blood. But in a different, more profoundly present way. Wayne no longer talks with me in audible words. I do not see him face-to-face. We cannot walk side-by-side. But he is alive and lives within me. He comes to me as close as breathing. In the immediacy of thought. In the spontaneity of feeling. In the vivid imagery of memory.

I remember his impossibly broad smile. His riotous laughter. His beautiful music on piano and organ. His early Saturday morning wake up calls from St. Louis to Pontheolla and me in Washington, DC, gleefully shouting: “Get up and be productive! The day is wasting away!”

More than this, in my lively memories of Wayne, I have a living image of a genuine human being. One who dared to be true to himself and honest with others. A living image of authenticity upon which to model my life; a living image, an almost corporeal aura beyond my reason to comprehend or my ingenuity to create.

I remember Wayne’s generosity; giving himself and his substance to family and friends sometimes beyond prudent self-interest. His liberality guides me when my selfishness would suffocate the spirit of charity within me.

I remember Wayne’s kindness; speaking little evil of others, even those who hurt him, often holding his counsel, when to speak, however truthfully, would have been unkind and, hence, unhelpful. His compassion constrains me when my anger, even for the sake of righteousness about injustice, would burst into flames of vengeful speech.

I remember Wayne’s honesty; telling our parents, with candor and care, that he was gay and refusing to deny his anguish when our parents, perhaps predictably, did not accept him, and then laboring to live into healthy, unapologetic self-acceptance. His integrity helps me remain true to myself and with others when I, hungering for acceptance, am tempted, like a chameleon blending with my surroundings, to conceal what I think and feel.

I remember Wayne’s courage; living valiantly his final days and hours with AIDS. He didn’t want to die, but he seemed to accept his approaching end blessedly without shame, victoriously without alarm. His bravery encourages me when my fears would engulf me.

It’s odd, but I think that I think of Wayne more since his death than when he was alive in the flesh. Perhaps in my awareness that I don’t have the luxury, the possibility of being in touch, seeing him that he comes more to mind. More truly it is because of love. I so loved and have missed him. I love and miss him still. O, how I wish that he was back from the dead and with me.

Although this cannot be, Wayne is with me. Not as before, in flesh and blood. But in a different, more profoundly present way. He is alive and lives within me; the very memory of him helping me to connect to a spiritual strength beyond my power. I now know a fellowship with Wayne – yea, verily, with God – hitherto unknown.