Sackcloth and Ashes

Found these paragraphs from January of 2007 in an old notebook I used to keep for writing grocery lists and other miscellanea. “Dave” is not my friend’s real name. He’s feeling better these days; has found some joy in a grandson named after the lost boy.

Dave has always been loud, a little raucous, and as good-hearted and honest as they come. He stands 5’9″ and probably weighs 200 pounds. Since fighting a losing battle with the brain tumor that killed his 18-year-old son a few months ago, Bob feels more out of control to me. His hair is longer, all gray now, thick curls straggling out the back of his working man’s cap. I guess he shaves occasionally, but he bears an unshaven, grizzled look, and when he laughs, it is a mirthless, bitter bark.

Dave still coaches kids’ softball and I think it is there his sweetness and patience — maybe even his sanity — are restored for a time on sunny, warm afternoons.

I keep my distance most of the time when he’s doing electrical work on our house. I brew a pot of coffee for him and leave a cup on the counter. He could use the comfort of a Holy Spirit, but is so angry with God that he is blocked from receiving that sustenance. He is trapped. I don’t know what to say and am afraid to put the drill bit of conversation into the raw marrow of his pain and see him blow to pieces and fly apart, or shrivel back into a dark tunnel of grief.

He knows now that nothing matters; at least, he believes that nothing matters. And that leaves him not knowing how to live anymore.

I stood in the pantry last week after he had been in there working. It was hours later, but I smelled a mixture of cigarette smoke, stale clothes, possibly the faint odor of beer expressed through the pores of skin, and the acrid smell of loss mingled with despair. He is the living picture of sackcloth and ashes.

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