I sat in my pew on Sunday, and he said from the pulpit, “All else will burn away,” which was to say our wit, our wealth, our beauty, our knowledge, will be consumed as dross when dead. And faith and hope, too, (or even. Even these!) won’t stand the flame and will curl and cool into ash. “Now these three remain: faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love."
I hold her on Monday. Seven pounds, fifteen ounces, and she flails and yawns and stuffs curled fists clumsily against little lips. She is newly minted and wondering at the arms she has found herself in. She is black haired, dark eyed, sniffing for her mother, blinking at my face, and I can’t help but notice that she is at this moment as close to grace as she will ever be: a warm, hungry bundle of helpless dependence, incapable of earning love, and blanketed and bathed in it regardless.
“I love you, little lady,” I say. “I’m so glad to finally meet you.” She responds by falling asleep and I spread her tiny toes against my palm.
On the drive home I stop at a light and see just ahead of me a gathering group of people beside two bodies writhing on the street. There is a motorbike tossed on its side, a smashed car, confusion, and the sound of my door slamming as I stop and run toward them. I am afraid of blood. I’m afraid I will see blood and brains spilling out of ears, but I am more afraid of doing nothing. What I do see is a pair of lost shoes lying on the street thirty feet from their owner.
I come to the men. One is grabbing at his chest with fingers spread wide, trying to breathe, moaning and rolling in pain. The other man is lying flat on his stomach against the pavement saying, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” I ask questions, call a wife and say, "There’s been an accident," and pass the phone to her husband who shapes his moans into sentences while I try to protect the man who is sorry from oncoming traffic. He doesn't hear my offers to move him off the road, so I stand close to him, waiting for help. And I gather from the pieces that he was driving too fast, too carelessly and so he spread bits of his bike and bits of his friend across the pavement. I stand, uncertain. Everything takes so long.
And then I see the ambulance making its way toward us. They will be fine, I decide; it looks like they will be fine. There is hardly any blood. No brains at all. As I leave, the apologizing man looks up and notices me for the first time at his feet. We stare at each other for a moment. He has dark eyes and bare toes. I walk away.
The mythology of the phoenix circles the story of its death. That at the end of its very long life the bird builds a nest of cinnamon twigs which it ignites and then burns, burns, burns its self to death, leaving all that it was, all that it had done and left undone, behind. And from this dust a new phoenix arises: an afterlife of a bird. And it all sounds like love to me.