Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Noah and the Flood of Loss

Sitting in the library at home on recent evenings, I have held in the palm of my hand an image of Noah greeting the dove with an olive branch in its beak. The ark from whose high window Noah extends a bearded face tilts on the crest of a powerful wave.

The bronze square that I have been contemplating is a miniature reproduction of a panel in a church door in Italy. I bought the article four years ago in Amsterdam in a religious arts store near Café Luxembourg, a favorite spot where I had my first taste of the Dutch drink known as genever. From a brown leather banquette, I could look through the tall windows at the back of the café and glimpse the steeple of the beautiful Gothic church known as the Krijtberg.

How can four years ago seem a lifetime away?

On one of those March days in Amsterdam Marc and I had an argument. Where would we celebrate Christmas later that year? I had proposed spending it in New Orleans for what could well be my mother’s last Christmas. Marc countered that this was the year for us to spend the holidays with his sister, especially since we had spent the previous Christmas – their first Christmas after their own mother’s death – with my family down South.

It had been a hard argument to have on the streets of Amsterdam. For each of us family feeling, fueled by normal vacation fatigue, made us look at the other in disbelief given what felt like a clear failure to appreciate the emotional needs of a partner.

Fate reduced our argument to an academic one. My mother would die two months later, my New Orleans brother’s partner five months after that, and my favorite aunt the first week of December. The devastation of Katrina the following year removed New Orleans from our consideration for any holidays in the foreseeable future.

In the close to two years since my first post-Katrina visit to New Orleans, I have worked hard to fathom the flood of loss since those days in Amsterdam, since the purchase of the image of Noah that I have held in my hand the past few nights. I have worked hard to repair the inadequate ways I long ago learned for handling anything that looked like grief, for handling changes in my life over which I had no apparent control.

Reflecting on the image of Noah this past week and wondering what this story from the Book of Genesis might have new to say to me, I recalled something about a flood.

The wave bears up at the same time that it overwhelms.

Despite the submerging of so much that had been familiar to Noah, I want to think that at some point he might have felt reassured. I want to think that Noah at some point might have realized that God had trusted him with this challenge, this opportunity, just this life – his life. Noah may have felt at times the critical glances of his family, the silent judgment on the faces of people recalling what they had lost of the routine goals of a life.

The dove brought Noah reassurance that somewhere over that endless expanse of water was life as he had known it – or maybe something even better, even stronger, even better suited to helping him start over.

The wave bears up at the same time that it overwhelms.

Noah will not be the same when he comes on shore.

Photo from Café Luxembourg

3 comments:

H.A. Page said...

"The wave bears up at the same time it overwhelms." Isn't that true of so much? Very lovely piece.

I miss NYC a bit and your earlier post made me miss beautiful days when the streets were fun to walk on...

I wrote about you on my Feb. 24 post...

Jim said...

Donald:
I wonder Noah's back story might have included a love for and acceptance of life in all of its changing manifestations. Maybe a love which could transcend and even be strengthened by the seeming losses which found him changed but still afloat, at times against all odds. Life clings to us, I think, as much as we cling to it sometimes.

Donald said...

The streets of NYC, though very cold, were stirring and refreshing, MotherPie. Thanks for leaving your words and for including a kind link to me on your site.

Jim, I love the idea of life clinging to us -- so that we almost miraculously manage to come to the surface even amidst the most challenging circumstances. You got what I was trying to say here.