Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Farewell for Mom Edith

In Catholic tradition, we refer to the day of the death of a saint as "dies natalis." It's a contradiction that turns grief to joy because the phrase translates to "day of birth." While we acknowledge the sadness of the passing from this mortal world, we also celebrate the birth of the saint into Heaven.

The phrase came to mind last Sunday evening when I received the sad news: Dr. Edith Tiempo had passed away. The message came from a number I did not recognize, so I did not believe it straightaway. I tried to contact a number of friends but did not get an answer. And yet somehow, deep down, I also knew that the message was true.

So, indeed, sadness. I will not be able to visit Mom Edith again, or hold her hand, or listen to her stories. But it's a sadness that I'll temper with joy because, after all, we're all called to be saints and that Sunday Mom Edith was born into Heaven.

* * *

It just so happened, too, that in the weeks leading up to this I had been listening to lectures on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. One such lecture dwelt on the Gift of Iluvatar. In Tolkien's mythology, Iluvatar is the name by which they call God. The Gift of Iluvatar, given only to the Race of Men, is, as commonly understood, the ability to die.

Who could want such a gift as death? Tolkien wrote fantasy but he was also a deeply theological thinker. The Gift of Iluvatar was indeed mortal death, but only as an instrument that Men could return Iluvatar.

Even this return was not simply for sake of itself. Iluvatar willed that the hearts of Men should not be content on Arda (Earth), should find no rest therein, and must therefore be ever seeking beyond the world. In our hearts we know of Truth far richer, grander, and more awesome than our limited existence will permit us to experience here.

* * *

As an artist, Mom Edith was finely attuned to this Truth, and she shared this with us through her poetry. "The crucial substance of poetry," she taught, "is its human relevance and the philosophic truth it reveals."

But how she made us see all this experience as new! Whether it was a distillation of love and longing into small things that one can "keep in a box / or a slit in a hollow post"; or addressing the paradox within ourselves, "the faces of what / we are not / what we refuse to be"; or glimpsing our fleeting place in eternity: "Only our context / Moment to moment / Is a whole."

And so now, Mom Edith has passed on into Truth.

The soul flees its suspension
In upward tropism to the light;
Divinity in the heavens
Required no less: Lift,
Fly, elevate; the sky is ever
The hovering home.

We're sad that we shall no longer see her; but let us rejoice that she was with us; and let us rejoice that she has gone Home.