My father died on Easter Sunday sixteen years ago. On that day I was busy, flying home to New York from Columbus, Ohio where my wife and I had just bought a house. We boarded a jet, discovered ourselves to be the only people on the plane other than the folk singer Judy Collins.
I fell asleep and somewhere over Buffalo I woke with a start, hearing a voice in my head, not precisely my father’s voice, but something patriarchal for sure, and the words were dreadful: “It’s Easter Sunday, 2000 and your father has just died.” I thought I was tired—knew it. “You’re just tired,” I said half aloud so that my wife looked at me and said, “what did you say?” I said “nothing” as in, “oh, nothing” because how do you say you’ve heard Jehovah explaining the death of your father?
When we got home there was a message on our answering machine from my sister. And so of course the premonitory “thing” was true and while I’ve since studied the history of hearing voices, “paracusia” as it’s known in Greek, I’ve never been able to fully explain or shake off that moment on a commuter jet. Was it Jesus I’d heard? Was it one of the apostles? I’d been close to my father in a complex way, perhaps as all sons must be with their dads, for he was by turns loving and aloof in sequences that always seemed to run against whatever it was I needed. But I was close to him and something vatic and unexplainable had testified to that love. That’s how I came to understand the voice, the unsought quickened narration of his passing—and I remember that I felt him, my father, flying over our airplane on his way.
In his book “Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale” Frederick Buechner writes: “There is a fragrance in the air, a certain passage of a song, an old photograph falling out from the pages of a book, the sound of somebody’s voice in the hall that makes your heart leap and fills your eyes with tears. Who can say when or how it will be that something easters up out of the dimness to remind us of a time before we were born and after we will die?”
I’m hearing my father’s voice today. It is all voices. It’s an eastering voice. And because it feels right to say so, I think his voice is right above.
That was his gift to me on Easter sixteen years ago. There are things we can know, and which, in turn, we do not have to explain.