The day after I learned of my cousin's suicide, I took this picture of the demolition site for what was previously First Baptist Church of Clarendon. This was maybe two days since I'd been forcibly yanked out of my usual morning numbness by the powerful smell coming from the demolition site: the smell of old church buildings... a combination of water-damaged wood, old paper, candle smoke and prayer.
As it happened, that was also the last morning my cousin saw on this earth.
The sense of smell can be so incredibly powerful, and that scent literally stopped me on my way to the train station. I felt momentarily possessed: my immediate visual image was that I'd just inhaled Spirit with that scent, as the prayers and tears and memories of all who had worshipped in that space were released when the bricks and mortar and wood and drywall were ripped apart by the demolitioner's wrecking ball. Did the demolition crew feel it? Could they hear the voices of the choirs that had sung and the cries of the babies that had been baptized and the laughter of the couples who were wed? Could they hear the tears of the bereaved at the funerals? Could they sense that empty feeling in the guts of those who could not believe, but who attended week after week, pretending that they did?
Because I could. All of that pushed right over me like one of those waves that smacks you in the back when you are turned away, looking for a loved one who was sitting on the sand a minute ago, straining your eyes in another direction and expecting calm seas behind you...
Which, incidentally, is what the news of my cousin's suicide was like... but the difference is that the scent of all those church memories was like a playful wave that just comes up to your shoulders and the water is warm and feels soft on your skin and it picks you up and carries you very gently for a few inches and then sets you down again...
but hearing that Nat took his life? That was like one of those waves that breaks and smashes into the back of your head with an audible *slap*, cold and cruel and uncaring, momentarily filling your eyes and nose so that you can't breathe and you can't see, and you're suddenly aware that the sea is full of dead things and your mind is full of drowning.
I did stop breathing for a few seconds when I read my Mother's text, telling me what had happened, asking me to pray for my Aunt and Uncle. I remembered Nat's dark eyes from when we were kids, and the baby face he never outgrew. I remembered how he used to be calm and a bit gentle with his brother's wild kids. I remember that I never felt like I knew him, but I wished that I did. I haven't seen him in years, and I won't see him again. Not here, on this earth, in a way I can understand.
He was only 30.
The thing about this, Nat, is that now your Mom will suffer for the rest of her life in a way she has never suffered before. I imagine you thought you'd somehow alleviate her suffering by exiting the stage, but you don't get to do that, hon.
Nobody can erase themselves from their Mother's memory.
And the truth is, nobody can simply vanish and leave the world untouched. No matter how insignificant you feel, somebody remembers you, and so you altered that person's life, even if just for a second. And everyone has a spirit, so even if your spirit is weak and conflicted, you still had a place here. You still had the possibility of becoming whole, of helping others, of playing your part, of finding some measure of peace...
...like the prayers, weddings, baptisms, and funerals that have taken place at Clarendon Baptist. I don't know any of those worshipper's names. But I remember them... everytime I pass that crumbling ruin where their Church used to be. I know they were there. I can *feel* that they were there.
I don't know why you did it, Nat.
I wish I'd known you better, but there's nothing to be done about that now.
All I can do is pray:
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi
dona nobis pacem.
Agnusi Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi
dona eis requiem.
Rest in peace, Nat. I'm so sorry that I didn't know you were hurting.