At a Child’s Deathbed, by Willem Elsschot
Earth wasn’t forced out of its orbitWhen your little heart stopped beatingThe stars didn’t fadeand the house stayed standing.But all the wails and silent sobseven while drinking a comforting coffeecannot make your voice sound,or put the light back in your eyes.
Today I will attend the funeral of a son of friends of mine. He was a man-child, severely disabled and not expected to live much beyond age ten; but remarkably, with the love and care of his parents and so many others in his world, he lived to age 29.
Lyon lived and touched virtually everyone he came in contact with; he was alive with cogency and agency; he was a worshipper and a prayer. He was loved and loving.
In the time between his death a month ago and his funeral today, I caught an episode of a PBS series from Belgium, Professor T, in which the eccentric criminology professor repeats this refrain from a poem written by the late Flemish poet, Willem Elsschot. It seemed timely. He writes it as if to the child himself.
One might read this sad and blunt poem, and accept its reality. Others might howl at their loss as the writer for “Downward Slope“:
The world tilted wildly and shook. When I looked at the heavens, there were no stars. The house fell down around me.
Nevertheless we are not without hope, though we would fully grieve. We are not without joy in the memory of someone who lived and enlivened our world. We are not without the substance of faith in this curious and all too short life.
Both birth and death does this to us; we are destabilized and grab for something solid. It is a walk of increasing humility with the One who made us for Himself.