Remembering the morning Marc died, January 21, 2015.
The night before Marc died I said to him, Honey, if there is any way you can be in touch with me after… Marc looked at me with dismay. Perhaps the way Jesus looked at his disciples, How long have I been with you and yet you ask such a question! That was the look he gave.
I haven’t heard a word. But I have not been abandoned. And there are a couple of things that happened the morning Marcus died that have given me solace and sustained me ever since.
Marcus rose before the sun on Wednesday January 21, 2015. He died at 7:05 am. Shortly thereafter the petals on the two-dozen multi-colored tulips HarperOne (Marc’s book publisher) had sent Marcus started dropping. One by one. Then in silent clusters. As if they were falling from my own face. In a matter of minutes they pooled together on the table where they once stood.
I had randomly picked out a funeral home about a week prior. I didn’t know one funeral home from another. We had recently moved to Central Oregon. It was new geography for both of us. In many ways. A high desert landscape. Rural. Somewhat isolated. On that Wednesday morning, my stepson made the call. To our surprise the director of the funeral home arrived accompanied by a male aide. She was in her thirties. Pregnant. Lovely. She said, “When I heard it was Marcus Borg I had to come… I took classes from Marcus,” she told us, “at Oregon State. He was my favorite professor [mine too]. I learned so much from him. He gave me a new way of seeing and understanding. He is the best teacher I ever had. I just had to come.”
There are over forty funeral homes in this area. No one knows us here, I had thought. In this unfamiliar landscape, on this day I felt lost to everything, I was located. Here, with us, someone who had experienced Marcus. I couldn’t believe it. She brought her sorrow and her own witness. She could share our immeasurable loss, a loss personal and public. (Kelly had a daughter, by the way, or I would have insisted on the name Marc.)
Along with a stretcher a patchwork quilt. Red and green squares with little Christmas trees and snowmen and a Santa here and there. A hold-over from the season that had just past. Did you ever hear Marcus talk about the patchwork quilt? I asked Kelly. She didn’t recall. At his classes at Oregon State he probably wouldn’t have mentioned this. I told her, When he traveled to churches throughout the country he was often asked: Marcus, the world is in such trouble and turmoil, it is all so overwhelming, it seems like just too much sometimes… how are we to make a difference? Marcus, borrowing an image from Sallie McFague, would say: Consider the patchwork quilt. (Perhaps we can add this to the lilies of the field.) Consider the patchwork quilt. Figure out what is yours to do and do that. Do your part, do your “patch.” And together we can create something that is more than we could have imagined or done alone.
I took handfuls of the tulip petals and sprinkled them over Marc’s body. Then we covered him with the patchwork quilt. And tucked him in.
The tulips, Kelly, the patchwork quilt… a few other things happened that morning that have sustained me. Including the sight of our Glen of Imaal terrier, Marcus’s four-legged soul mate, Henry, lavishing him with kisses… “kiss the joy as it flies,” wrote Blake, and “live in eternity’s sunrise.”
Tulips, Kelly, the quilt, Henry. When I saw them I really saw them. Borrowing from Mary Oliver, “as through the veil, secretly, joyfully, clearly.”
And from the same poem (Snow Geese): “Oh, to love what is lovely, and will not last! What a task to ask of anything, or anyone, yet it is ours, and not by the century or the year, but by the hours.” To love what is lovely and will not last. What a task… and yet it is ours.
“Though this body be destroyed,” writes Job, “yet in my flesh shall I see God.” Life left Marc’s body on that morning and all that I saw and experienced… God.
I still haven’t heard a word from Marc. Yet in the silence the thinnest sound. Something like, I never left you. Perhaps it is the beating of my own heart. Or the whirl of my own psyche.
I have no doubt you have had a moment or two or countless ones or glimpses of something that has sustained you in times of loss or disbelief. Or perhaps moments that for the passerby might seem ordinary but you know they are not. Share one, if you will.