November's Sweet Silent Thoughts


As strange as it may sound—because he was never absent and we did many things together—there was always a distance between my Father and me.  Maybe the space between us was the absence of words.  My life quickly ordered itself around language: first talking and then reading and writing.  My father did very little of these.  
Because I was interested in priesthood, I left home at age fourteen to attend a Catholic boarding school.  Before I departed, my father drew me aside and showed me a silver dollar that he kept in his billfold.   I knew of its existence, because, like most sons during the doldrums of childhood, I had often examined my Father’s effects.  The silver dollar had been in his billfold for so long, it had molded a permanent impression in the soft leather.  
My Father gave the silver dollar a story.  “Son, my Father gave me this coin when I went to Korea.  I’ve had it in my billfold so long, its engravings are disappearing.  I’ve always carried it with me.  This morning I went to the bank and got a silver dollar for you, to carry with you as you leave home.”
I put the silver dollar in my own billfold, aware that something important had passed between my Father and me.  A man, who made little use of words, had found a way to say more than words could convey.
Sadly, sometime in the year away that followed, another student stole my billfold.  I eventually found it, stripped of its few contents and discarded in a waste barrel.  Of course the silver dollar was gone.  
My Father responded as he always did, with very few words.  Such things didn’t matter, he said.  We’d get another silver dollar.  
But we never did, and I don’t know why.  I do know that the memory of that coin still afflicts me.  I lost something too precious for a billfold to hold.  I lost what will never be found. 
In November, the Church’s year comes to a close.  Nature dies around us, and we recall our dead.  The Church asks us to remember that history itself—the world’s history and our own stories—will have an end.  And when we resolutely stare ahead to the close, we can’t help but to mourn what was lost along the way. 
Shakespeare captured melancholy November in a sonnet.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought 
I summon up remembrance of things past, 
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought, 
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste: 
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow, 
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night, 
And weep afresh love’s long since cancelled woe, 
And moan the expense of many a vanished sight: 
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone, 
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er 
The sad account of fore-bemoanèd moan, 
Which I new pay as if not paid before. 
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend, 
All losses are restored and sorrows end.
For the Bard, a true life’s love redeems what was the lost.  And yet we know that even true loves are sundered from us.  They slip beyond grasp and ken, but not what we surrender to God.
November reveals something of God.  God is that place, that person, that which lies beyond places and persons, where nothing is lost.  “For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?” (Wis 11: 24-25).  
Christ sought out Zacchaeus.  He was lost to Israel, but not to God, “for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost” (Lk 19:10).  Christ is the great seeker of souls.  He recovers what we cannot.  In him I will find father and coin.  Nothing is lost to God, the mystery from which all comes, and to which all returns.
Wisdom 11: 22-12:2   2 Thessalonians 1: 11-2:2   Luke 19:1-10
Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Carlos Leon
4 years 6 months ago
My mother gave me a small plastic folder enclosing a metal icon of Immaculate Mary with the Hail Mary printed on a card. I've had it in my various wallets for 55 yrs, it is cracked and yellowed and taped together. I keep it because it is a gift of prayer and love. Neither should be taken lightly or thrown away. Thank you for a wonderful story.


Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

The Holy Spirit might be the forgotten person of the Holy Trinity.
James Martin, S.J.May 21, 2018
Pope Francis walks past cardinals as he leaves a consistory in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican June 28, 2017. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis is trying to ensure that those who elect his successor are humble men committed to “a church of the poor and for the poor.”
Gerard O’ConnellMay 21, 2018
James Martin, S.J. discusses this groundbreaking exhibition with Andrew Bolton, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute and C. Griffith Mann, Michel David-Weill Curator in Charge of the Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 
America StaffMay 21, 2018
Archbishop Matteo Zuppi (Photo/Community of Sant'Egidio website)
Archbishop Matteo Zuppi of Bologna calls Father James Martin’s book ‘Building a Bridge’ ‘useful for encouraging dialogue, as well as reciprocal knowledge and understanding.’
Matteo ZuppiMay 21, 2018