The Black Carriage

Again it is stern November— “no butterflies, no bees, no fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds—November!” (Thomas Hood). The aged year is near its end; proud Winter is close at hand.

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves And Immortality.
We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away My labor,
and my leisure too,
For his civility…
I first surmised the horses’ heads
Were toward eternity.

– Emily Dickinson

All Saints and All Souls Day stand at the door of this month, calling us to remember those that our hearts held dear. More and more are gone. People I thought would never die have died. They were people with whom I identified myself. They were part of the fabric of my life. Their deaths left great gaping holes. I think of them and moments of lost time. I long for them to be living and to have it all over again.

The heart is sad for vanished hopes. I resonate to that passage from Psalm 23 about walking through the valley of the shadow of death. My belief in heaven has me feeling like someone who is waiting and waited for.

Isaiah 38:12 uses two striking figures for death. “My dwelling is plucked up and removed from me like a shepherd’s tent; like a weaver he has rolled up my life, cut me off from the loom.” A “shepherd’s tent” doesn’t stay long in a place. With the thread on the loom, the Weaver weaves the pattern of my life, then detaches the thread from the loom, rolls up the pattern and takes it with him. There is a limit to the thread allocated to me.

The Roman writer, Seneca, compared life to a role in a play that should satisfy us when it is over, since that is all the Author wrote. One should leave graciously.

At times I do wonder how “Brother Death” will come for me. I pray he will arrange the meeting without much mess or fuss. Dying will be the last thing I’ll have the opportunity to do well. I love Therese of Lisieux’s reflections on this: “I wonder how I will do when dying. I would like to come off with honor. In my childhood, the great events of my life appeared to me as insurmountable mountains.

When I saw little girls make their First Communion, I said to myself: How will I do at my First Communion? Later: How will I do at entering Carmel? And afterwards: at taking the habit? At making profession? At present, it’s How will I do at dying?”

We are children of earth, who die. “Who will save himself from the grasp of the grave?” (Psalm 89:50).

A man named John DuBos (died 1742) cleverly said: “Something that should console The Black Carriage Potpourri By Thomas H. Hicks Thomas Hicks is a member of St. Theresa Parish in Trumbull. us when dying is the memory of our stupidities and the assurance that they are now going to stop.”

There’s a prayer by a man name Ernest Hello. It’s a prayer to the angel Raphael, the guide of Tobias, a prayer very appropriate for November and All Saints and All Souls Day. The prayer goes: “I feel lonely and tired, crushed by the separations and sorrows of life. O Raphael, guide of Tobias, lead me toward those whom I am waiting to see again, those who are waiting for me. Oh, the rapture of that meeting; Oh, the joy to see me coming.”

There’s an American Indian tribe named the Athabaskan where the custom is for the dying person to make his/her last word the word “goodbye” which is Tiaa, which literally means “See you.”

I hope I can die in harness. Till then I expect, now and then, to feel Death touch my shoulder and say: “Live—I’m coming.” Life is to be lived, and it seems nearly incomprehensible to think of life continuing its ways without me. But sooner or later, I’ll hear the Banshee, I’ll open the door, I’ll see the black carriage “kindly stopped for me,” maybe wet with rain