Friday, May 18, 2012


Our son Ricky died of leukemia at the age of five and a half. His death occurred on the morning of the Convocation of Princeton Theological Seminary’s 144th year. It was the day that marked the beginning of my three years as a seminary student. I didn’t feel at all like attending the Convocation, but my wife Margie thought it would be good for me to go. The memory of that experience haunted me for years, until, after years of struggling, I finally was able to put my thoughts into words. The following poem,
entitled "Convocation Day," is the deeply personal result of that effort. It is included in my book A Sense of Being Called, along with a much more detailed account of  Ricky's story and its impact on my pilgrimage from professional baseball into the ministry.

Ricky (14 months)
Are these my thoughts, or are they dreams?          
The voice is real,
and yet I feel
beyond the reach of any well-intended word
I may have heard
but did not really hear.
So near
the vocal sound, and yet so far
from my half-conscious mind, it seems.
My mental door is left ajar,
as in a stupor, vaguely sensing all
yet feeling not at all.
My dry, unblinking eyes are seeing naught,
as though they have been caught
in some weird state of flux between
and fantasy,
while I am bound
with chains unseen
by those around,
who, far from mean,
are quite transfixed by words addressed
to them but nonetheless expressed
Ricky (two)
in unfeigned sympathy
for me
because our son has died
this very morn—their convocation day.
Why am I sitting here this way?
Because, resolved
to be involved,
I forced myself at last to come.
My body, mind and soul are numb.                                                            
I have not cried
as yet.
I feel as if I'm in a kind of trance,
aware enough to dare
to hope
by some divinely ordained chance
that this indeed is one nightmare
from which I shall awake
to find our son still there.
But my heartache
is much too strong,
though all along
Andy, Ricky, and Ellen 
his Mom and I have known this day
would come.
Still we had hoped by some
much prayed-for miracle of grace
that God would spare our son,
whose face
is in my mind's eye clearly now.
The speaker's voice announces how
"One of our students and his wife today
have suffered a great loss,"
and something else about a cross.                                        
Then, for some reason, suddenly
I'm jolted from my reverie
by my harsh rediscovery
that all these words of sympathy
are meant for Margie and for me.
It is our son whose death is news
to all the strangers in these pews.
The voice confirms my saddest fears,
and now I'm fighting back the tears.
The muscles of my throat are sore
from swallowing the lump. What's more,
In front of Univ. of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia
I feel a claustrophobic urge
to rush out from this crowded place.
I'm on the verge
of screaming, No!
It can't be so.
I can't erase
the awful truth, and yet. . . and yet
there's still a shade
of disbelief that will not fade,
nor will it let
me rest at ease until I know.
Is it false hope, or morbid fear,
or grief compelling me to go?
The friendly greetings that I hear,
as I push through the parting crowd,
are answered with a weak, forced smile,
but not aloud. And all the while
my heart pounds with anticipation,
not in hopeful expectation.
It’s as if some heartless fiend
has gleaned
a devilish delight
in tempting me
to think tonight
Our last family photo with Ricky
that Ricky might be there,
and thus propelling me
by hope
that soon would turn into a deep despair,
a cruel trick, the kind
a sadist plays upon a tortured mind.
The tempo of my heartbeat
now is faster than my running feet,
crossing the lawn, as I have done
so many times to see my son.
Then bounding up the concrete stair
and pushing wide the door, I stare
into the darkness of the room,
where normally there is a light.
But not tonight,
for Margie is exhausted by her long ordeal.
She did not feel
that she could go with me
to such a convocation.
Having had to bear the brunt of Ricky's recent tribulation,
she has gone for days
and days
with very little sleep or rest,
and both of us had thought it best
that she stay home instead.
Since she is now in bed,
I gently close the door,
and then, I do the same
as I have done so many times before:
I softly call his name.
It's not that I
think he'll reply,
but that I must now play again
the little game
we played, we two,
which in the final days I knew                                                             
would have to come to this,
a sad pretending, like a lover's kiss
bestowed upon the breeze,
to sadden, not to please
the heart,
which, though about to break,
must from the start
indulge its pain
for love's sake.
So I wait in vain,
suspended in the silent void,
to hear once more the bravely cheerful voice of one
I so enjoyed
and loved, reply
"Hi, Daddy!" to be followed by
my "hello hug." But now
I feel the agonizing absence. Yet somehow
I cannot let myself believe our little boy is gone.
My loving wife will comfort me
and I her, and we both will see,
that life goes on,
as people say,
and convocations like today,
while she and I,
so painfully bereft
are left
to wonder,


No comments:

Post a Comment