‘Tis Holy To Love What Death Has Touched

Justin carrying the cross at the National Cathedral

Spiritual Sunday

Seventeen years ago today—it was the first rather than the second Sunday after Easter—my eldest son drowned in the St. Mary’s River. Justin’s death no longer tears at my heart every day, but there is a hole there. I treasure that hole because it keeps me in touch with him.

My friend Dana Greene recently sent me the following poem when we were both in mourning for our dear friend Kate Chandler. Judah Halevi, the great 12 century Jewish poet and philosopher, captures the powerful paradox of loving what is mortal in “‘Tis a Fearful Thing.” Seen logically, doing so is “a thing for fools.” That is why it is holy.

‘Tis a Fearful Thing

By Judah Halevi

’Tis a fearful thing
to love what death can touch.

A fearful thing
to love, to hope, to dream, to be –

to be,
And oh, to lose.

A thing for fools, this,

And a holy thing,

a holy thing
to love.

For your life has lived in me,
your laugh once lifted me,
your word was gift to me.

To remember this brings painful joy.

’Tis a human thing, love,
a holy thing, to love
what death has touched.

Justin had a wonderful laugh and was full of life. To remember this brings painful joy.

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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