lenten journal: solace


To say my father was a sports fan is like saying I like to cook. The man would pull over and watch five year olds play football just because it was a game. He became the Sports Chaplain at Baylor because he loved going to the games. I’ve thought a great deal about him today as the conference basketball tournaments are beginning because he watched all of them, right on through the NCAA Championship. This happens to be a time of year when I turn into a sports fan for much the same reason, so we talked to each other a great deal.

One summer several years ago I said, “One of the things I want to do with you is go to the Final Four.” The following February he called and said, “Milton” in this way of saying it that was sort of a stage whisper packed with surprise. Then he said, “I got ‘em.” He had three. The plan was for my brother and I to meet him in Atlanta and we would watch the games. Work schedules for both Miller and I made it where we couldn’t get there until Sunday, so my nephews went up for the semi final game on Saturday and my brother and I flew in later. I arrived to find out that Dad had discovered the Braves’ opening day was that Sunday, so he got us baseball tickets as well.

The story came back close this week because of a poem at the Writer’s Almanac yesterday called “A Drink of Water” by Jeffrey Harrison

When my nineteen-year-old son turns on the kitchen tap
and leans down over the sink and tilts his head sideways
to drink directly from the stream of cool water,
I think of my older brother, now almost ten years gone,
who used to do the same thing at that age;
and when he lifts his head back up and, satisfied,
wipes the water dripping from his cheek
with his shirtsleeve, it’s the same casual gesture
my brother used to make; and I don’t tell him
to use a glass, the way our father told my brother,
because I like remembering my brother
when he was young, decades before anything
went wrong, and I like the way my son
becomes a little more my brother for a moment
through this small habit born of a simple need,
which, natural and unprompted, ties them together
across the bounds of death, and across time …
as if the clear stream flowed between two worlds
and entered this one through the kitchen faucet,
my son and brother drinking the same water.

The word that came to mind was solace: to give comfort to in grief or misfortune.

In ways that perhaps only make sense in my head and heart, the word takes from the poem and the memory to a song: Mavis Staples’ “You Are Not Alone.” The song moves me because of its tenacious compassion.

you’re not alone
I’m with you, I’m lonely too
what’s that song
can’t be sung by two?

a broken home, a broken heart
isolated and afraid
open up this is a raid
I wanna get it through to you
you’re not alone

you’re not alone, every night
I stand in your place
every tear on every face
tastes the same

a broken dream, a broken heart
isolated and afraid
open up this is a raid
I wanna get it through to you
you’re not alone

an open hand, an open heart
there’s no need to be afraid
open up this is a raid
I wanna get it through to you
you’re not alone

I wanna get it through to you
you’re not alone
I’m gonna get it through to you
you’re not alone

“Open up this is a raid”—solace with determination.

I suppose I will never get used to not being able to talk to him about March Madness, or him call my name in that particular way. But I am not alone in my grief nor in my solace. I will rest in that thought tonight.



  1. I miss my dad especially during the ACC tournament. It used to be just the play-in game on Thursday night and games all day Friday, and every year he would develop a mysterious back injury that caused him to have to lie on the floor in front of the TV all day on Friday. 🙂

    (Plus, he was a Duke fan and I am a UNC fan so we had intense feelings.)

  2. Chris had a nickname he called me, that no one else ever used. I miss his voice saying that-and everything else. Grief is the air I breathe; loneliness flavors the food I eat. I, too, had read and loved that poem. We watched March Madness as well-together.

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