I awoke in the dark night, the cool air drifting into my room through two wide opened windows, the soft sounds of a gently falling rain soothing to my mind and soul. Healing rain, the heavens liquefying to lay down on hard, unyielding pavements and dry, thirsty soil a moist blanket of peace in the night, peace after a day satisfied with its work, peace and stillness.
Always welcome to me, rain by night or by day invites me to pause, to return to my inner home. I would curl up in a cushioned chair in a corner between two windows, maybe a light blanket over me, and read a good book, or the Good Book, or even just the book of my memories. Taking pause, the selah of the psalms, after words or work, to stop and consider, it is enough.
This night the rain remembered another day when it healed the earth and those that live upon it and are buried in it. That bright day many years ago when, after a week of my wife’s family reunion at Buffalo Lake, Alberta, some of us turned aside to a graveyard in Camrose to commit to the soil the ashes of one of its own, my father-in-law James Raymond Mabbott.
He had come home from Australia to die. After a stormy marriage that produced five children in short order, he had disappeared, leaving his wife and oldest daughter to manage a fatherless family. Canadian farm boy of good stock, he was descended from Christian people from England’s smallest county, Rutlandshire, that came to settle in Wisconsin before the Civil War.
That family fanning out over the great plains, always west and north, to the Dakotah Territory, then spilling over to fill the prairie provinces, to Saskatchewan, to Alberta, leaving sturdy sons and swarthy but fair daughters to build homesteads, first from sod houses, at last produced the generation that was cast into the fiery furnace of the second world war, turning farm boys into killers.
After that war, wishing to forget, one took to alcohol and riotous living, but obligations to kith and kin must still be met. A young man took a wife, daughter of Ukrainian settlers who wished to become ‘white’ as quickly as possible. To be like other Canadians, my wife’s grandmother Domka, daughter of Father Theodosius Taschuk of the Russian Orthodox mission, became Doris.
She sent her children to the Protestant school and church, never spoke the ancestral tongue, the better to make Canadians out of them. When my mother-in-law was six, the old country reappeared in Father Theodosius coming to the settlement, rounding up all the children who hadn’t been baptised, and giving them the triple dunk in a large washbasin. Nancy became Anastasia in a hidden moment.
Then, back to Nancy as she grew up, a nice ‘white’ girl like all the other Smiths and Gordons and MacDearmids, when she became ripe for wedding, the young school mistress became the missus Mabbott, and started bearing children for her gallant young man. But the war had left large scars on his soul, and Christian though he was, what little faith he had was traded for drink.
Before long, the inevitable happened. Paper Christianity doesn’t have much holding power, and the young family was torn in two. As usual the children weighted down their mother’s boat, almost capsizing it. And the father, clinging to his piece of driftwood, was finally lost at sea. They never saw him again for a decade, hearing only rumors that he, like many others, had gone down under.
When he finally returned, it was to come home to die. The family was mostly grown. His oldest daughter had just become my wife. He went about trying to gather his sons and daughters together, and to make amends, tried to give them what he thought they needed, but money can’t atone for missing years. Before long he couldn’t hide his throat cancer any more. He had to pay the piper.
I knew him very little, but I could see what sort of man he must have been, and could have been. He was no stranger to virtue, but even loaded with virtues, a man can still be felled by one carefully aimed vice. Not wanting to ‘be buried in the cold earth’ he requested, and was granted, to have his remains cremated, so his bones would not feel the frozen clay, but his ashes had no resting place.
Not even an urn, just a cardboard box contained him, or what was left of him, as we opened the trunk of my car parked at the roadside. His oldest son was angry, was outraged that his father had nothing to show for him but a box of ashes. It was a bright day, its sharp outlines blunted by the steady drizzle that drenched the ground and muddied our boots as we walked into the cemetery.
There was a grave opened and ready to receive his ashes. I don’t remember how they were interred, but someone took charge of them. My part was to perform the memorial service. James, my father-in-law, was not a religious man, but he was a Christian, not a victorious one, but a crushed one. He was a man who had to go through a dark wood by night and was attacked, robbed and killed by a brigand.
No one else in the family knew what to do, and the church affiliations of those present at the interment were sketchy, so it fell to us, to my wife and me, to ‘do something’ for a memorial. What we did was the Greek Orthodox memorial service, singing parts of it in Greek for that little crowd of pious but undiscipled Christian relatives. ‘Meta pnevmaton dikaion teteleiomenon…’
I had printed out the memorial service and the few parts that were in Greek I translated, but no one holding a copy in their hands was looking at it. Something I learned early about the rain: you can cry in it and not be ashamed, because no one can tell the tears from the raindrops on your face, unless they look very closely. One of my wife’s sisters joined in as we sang ‘Aionia i mnimi…’
That simple melody, Aionia i mnimi, ‘Eternal be his memory,’ still hung in the air as we slowly parted from each other and returned to our cars. Some of the family had stayed in their cars because they were afraid of the rain. It made me wonder at the time, and even now, what people think is important, and why. Me, I am as much an Indian as I can be, bare-chested I love to go out in the rain.
As I sit here by my open window, that beautiful, constant sound of water plays music on the dark hardness outside, finding echoes within me, and I hope that when the sun rises in about an hour, the rain will continue. The world and I both need healing right now, and we cannot heal ourselves. Our memories cannot heal us, our doctrines and covenants cannot heal us, only the rain.
The rain, no, not the water falling that I love to run in or sit quietly under cover and listen to, not that rain, though it can be the harbinger. No, the real rain, that which God sends to water the earth, to water the heart, that is the rain I am talking about. We know the name of that red rain that washes away all stain of sin and the sting of pain. It is blood. It is grace. Healing rain.