We live each of these days under the shadow of mortality. This is a damnable thing, a thing to be hated.
Yesterday, after work, I walked to the bookstore and there met my wife and daughter. Sofie, in Anna’s arms, saw me as I came up to them. She smiled and raised her arms in greeting. And she laughed. My breath almost stopped for joy at this precious gift: a daughter’s gleeful anticipation of her father’s embrace.
This morning, I awoke and as I always do, took Sofie in my arms, wishing her good morning, and announcing to her God’s love. Our time together this morning was cut short as I had an early meeting at the APA downtown to get to. Anna lay next to her in the bed, and Sofie kept pulling herself up to a standing position. She would then let go, balancing on her own two feet for an eternity of seconds. Then down she would go, plopping–as only young eight month old daughters can plop–bouncily on her diapered bottom. Her infant giggles were infectious and I could not help but burst out laughing. I grabbed her up in my arms. After some hugs and kisses, I made to put her down. She clung to me, refusing to break the embrace. I said, “I have waited eight months for this”–this daughter who knows her papa, and in her own way cherishes his affection.
My joy was so intense as to be painful. I kissed her almost weeping, and kissed her mother, too. Telling Anna I loved her, I signed the cross on Sofie’s forehead. As I was stepping through the front door, I tossed back over my shoulder, “Bye-bye, beautiful Healy women.”
My father’s heart was created for this, this child’s faith. This is a sign for us. A sign of the garden. A foretaste of the final consummation. It is God’s “This is my beloved Son” given us by adoption. It is the fellowship of the cool of the day, the fellowship before the question, “Where art thou?”
But this joy is pierced by a sword. I do not have the mother’s heart in which these things are pondered. Rather, mine is the fitful sleep, the dreaming vision. I must be told, the reality made clear for me. And these are the words: it is given unto men once to die and after that to face the judgment.
For there is another garden this signifies. Here in the cool of the night fall drops of blood. Here there is the “Nevertheless” and the bitter cup. This joy, this daughter’s laugh, and my father’s heart will one day be stilled. Over us will the earth be piled, until we, too, become once again earth. My daughter, my wife, I, myself, have only these numbered days, these finite hours in which to live and to love. All around us the forces of the enemy stand arrayed, seeking our destruction. It is for us to defy them, to claim our inheritance, and to fling this morning laughter, these kisses and hugs, and most of all the purity of our love sanctified by the cross, back in their faces.
It is this mortality which infects this father’s joy with pain, laces the laughter with tears. It is this mortality I curse as these father-daughter moments seem so difficult to cultivate, these moments which seem to require being stolen from other obligations. But it is this joy, this laughing communion which is also my salvation. God has given me Anna, and that crucifixion of myself brought me to a certain redemption. God, Anna and the Theotokos have given me Sofie, and this second crucifixion has deepened that other redemption.
These things with which I have been filled overflow me. They are difficult to articulate. They are a Lenten joyful sorrow. They presage the final Pascha. I laugh. I weep. And I hope.
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