by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM October 25, 2020
Just one more time. If we could only see a beloved face or hear a tender and familiar voice calling our name. Just one more time.
Here in the Northeast, as we’re approaching the somber days of November, we see orange, red, and gold leaves abandoning their homes and fluttering to the ground. Colors that remain are muted now. Green and growth give way to a season of decay and death. All around us in the northern hemisphere, the natural world speaks of letting go of the life that once was.
The stage is set to usher us into those quiet days of remembrance, All Saints and All Souls, when we celebrate precious lives but also grieve their disappearance from our view. We’ve most probably all lost someone dear to us. Perhaps we continue to grieve their death in new and sometimes raw ways. And what we wouldn’t give to hear a loved voice, long silenced, call to us once again.
John Bull and later Annie Reneau both tell a story that speaks to our personal and collective longing for “just one more time.” They note that, in the Underground system in London, there are many announcements a traveler hears, automated instructions and various recordings. Among those announcements is a voice that warns, “Mind the gap.” For decades, that same voice repeated the reminder to be cautious, but it was replaced by a new digital system in 2012.
Weeks later, though, the old voice was back. And it was back because of the kindness of Underground workers. Around Christmas time that year, the staff at Embankment Tube Underground station were approached by a woman who was clearly upset. She kept asking them where the voice had gone, but they had no idea what she was talking about.
“The voice,” she explained. “The man who says, ‘Mind the Gap.’”
The staff noted that all the old Underground messages had been replaced in 2012 by a new digital system featuring different voices with more variety.
Still distressed, the woman blurted out her reason for being upset at the change. “That old voice,” she revealed, “was my husband.”
In the seventies, Dr. Margaret McCollum explained, her husband, Laurence Oswald, had been the man who had recorded all the Northern Line announcements. He had died in 2007.
She was bereft, and only one thing seemed to console her. Every day, on her way to work, she got to hear Laurence’s voice. Sometimes, when her loss was especially raw, she found comfort in just sitting on the platform at Embankment and listening to her husband’s voice cautioning, “Mind the Gap,” over and over. Listening to his voice had been her routine for five years, and now the sound of his voice had been abruptly taken away from her.
The staff at Embankment were apologetic, offering to copy the original recording of her husband’s announcement if it could be found. She thanked them politely but knew that was unlikely.
But one day in the New Year, as Margaret McCollum sat in Embankment Station on her way to work, over the speakers she heard a familiar voice. It was the voice of a man she had loved so much and never thought she’d hear from again.
“Mind the Gap,” said Laurence Oswald.
Because it turned out that many of the staff at Embankment and within London Underground understood firsthand what it meant to lose loved ones. They knew what a consolation it would be if they could hear those beloved voices one more time. So they searched Archives, pored over old schedules, hunted for tapes, restored and digitized them. They held Margaret’s grief as their own. And together they gave her the gift of just one more time. And then some.
What about us? What voices do we long to hear? What hands do we yearn to hold again? Which of the holy ones who have walked among us and who now live in glory in risen life would we give anything to see and hear again, even if for just one more time?
As we remember our holy ones on the feasts of All Saints and All Souls, we may grieve, yes. We may weep, yes. We may feel an ache, an emptiness, a void, yes. But let us also give profound thanks that in this life we were loved so extravagantly by these friends of God, not just one time, but for always.
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Call to mind and hold in tenderness your deceased loved ones.
Tell them what you are most grateful for in them.
Spend as long as you like holding this graced memory.
Ask them to bless your life going forward.
Featured Image: Lewis Parsons, Unsplash
Please know that I hold in my heart and prayer the memory of your dear ones now living in resurrection light.
I also ask you to hold in your prayer the Grey Nuns of Pembroke, Ottawa, Ontario, with whom I would have been offering a guided retreat October 18-28. With the U.S.-Canada border closed and the pandemic surging on the U.S. side of the border, that retreat was postponed to 2021.
And, of course, please join me in holding in prayer the upcoming U.S. elections.
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