CMadison loved Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style and gifted copies to our sons as homeschooling “treats”. Me, not so much…should that last period have been placed inside or outside of the quotation marks and does anyone really care?! But lately I’ve been musing about indefinite and definite articles, specifically a death versus the death. It’s been two years since CMadison died. I was a young girl of 17 when I met him and a 57 year old woman when he died. We were married 36 years, 8 months and 22 days. His was the death for me.
We were blessed by the example of generations of intact families and lifetime marriages. We loved our Sunday tradition of “100+ years of continuous worship” (my mother’s fav phrase!) in the same congregation followed by dinner at my parents with my siblings, their spouses and children.
We were blessed with three sons so wonderfully beautiful, brilliant and kind I’m often amazed that I gave birth to them. My grandmother used to always say “Paula’s boys are so sweet!”…lowered tones “You know they get that from Charles…” She was so funny and that was so true, I couldn’t get mad. And then we were blessed with the perfect daughter-in-love!
We were blessed to start and sustain PN&A, Inc. an entrepreneurial endeavor successful enough to shelter, clothe and feed us, cover our sons’ college tuition and enduring enough to pass on to the 2nd generation.
But our biggest blessing (after salvation of course;) was our marriage. CMadison and I practiced mindfulness in our intentionally transcendent marriage layered on our understanding of holistic Christian principles of Oneness… “the two shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, Mark 10:8 and Ephesians 5:31). It wasn’t a practice we felt led to share, we didn’t proselytize or even really discuss it with other folks, we just built this practice of oneness in the development of our consciously integrated married lives. We were each other’s advocate and ally, not just at the end of life and in the face of illness but from the very beginning, in the bloom and seemingly infinite vitality of our youth. CMadison wasn’t a man who made public pronouncements against patriarchy, he was more of a functional than theoretical womanist ally. CMadison funded my law school education, proof-read my papers and briefs, attended my moot court competitions like they were sporting events and when our twins were born the summer before my last year in law school, every night they got up, he got up-I nursed, CMadison burped and changed. He taught me to cook and after I totalled his brand-new, sticker-still-on-the-window Buick Rivera driving without a license he taught me to drive and bought me my very first car, a sweet, red Austin-Healey, two-seater convertible! CMadison taught forgiveness as a conscious practice, introduced me to organic gardening and was a much better housekeeper (and grammarian) than I.
We lived together, worshipped together, worked together, homeschooled together and once our sons left for college we traveled together, always just the two of us….we enriched one another’s lives and preferred one another’s company, we were always working on the transcendance, the oneness.
So back to my issue with the indefinite and definite article. Articles are adjectives that modify nouns. There are two articles in English, indefinite articles a or an which modify non-specifics and the definite article, the which modifies the specific. CMadison died at home, alone with me, it was beautiful and elegant, just like him. But even in the midst of the sadness and wonder …and yes, I think to death witnessed is much like birth witnessed is a wonder to behold…I realized this death was different for me. I live and worship in the city and congregation where I grew up, my mother grew up and my grandmother grew up. I have experienced a great many deaths…deaths of family members, deaths of friends, deaths of neighbors, deaths of classmates. And sadly, I’ve attended far too many services marking a death of yet another young person who died tragically and violently. But CMadison’s death was different. I think it’s because for me CMadison’s death was the death, not a death.
In the two years since he died I’ve listened more carefully and noticed more fully how people talk about the deaths they’ve experienced. Increasingly I can tell if the death under discussion was a death or the death. Philosophical musings are more common in the face of a death. The commentary can be quite uplifting and the message warmly comforting. Granted, sometimes folks get a little carried away with the platitudes and bromides that might be best left unsaid at least at the service or grave site: He doeth all things well; They’re in a better place; God doesn’t make any mistakes; or my favorite To be absent from the body is to present with the Lord. When I hear that from folks who stay at the doctor’s I kinda’ wonder, why don’t you exercise your absent option the next time you get sick?!
But back to the point, I don’t think CMadison’s death was the death for me because we were married. I think the definite or indefinite status of death is derivative of the definite or indefinite status of the lived relationship. That’s why the death someone experiences could be that of a parent, or a child or a friend- the defining nature of the lived relationship determines the defining nature death.
CMadison’s death was the defining death for me because ours was the defining relationship for me. We were blessed in that way. We each came to the relationship whole and intact. I won’t say we took love for granted, but we weren’t surprised or distrustful of it either. Routinely when I’d say, I love you, man! he’d reply, You’ve got good sense and excellent taste! And when he’d tell me, You’re amazing Sweetie Pie, I’d quote my Daddy, Tell me something I don’t know! Because we were loved, we were able to love and accept love from each other easily, naturally, joyously and with big robust, “choking on your coffee” laughs. We loved our children dearly from the very first moment we learned of their conception months and months before we ever saw them, but we never forgot that they were derivative of the relationship in which they were created. They never came first. When they were growing up CMadison told them She was my woman before she was your mother or We made you, we can make more or We were happy together before you came, we’re happy together with you here and we’ll be happy together when you leave…because we’re happy together. CMadison didn’t spank our sons, call them out of their names when he was angry or even raise his voice to them, but he did not coddle them… he respected them and their becoming and wanted them to know where they “fit in the big food chain.”
So today’s the 2nd anniversary of his death. Selfishly I’m sad he’s not here. I say selfishly because I do believe that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord-I’m just not trying to hear anybody telling me that, especially when I suspect they have not yet experienced the death. But even through the sadness, I am full of thanksgiving for having been blessed with the kind of love, the kind of joy, the kind of marriage, companionship and respect that could make his death the death for me.