Thursday, April 8, 2010

In Memoriam

(how do I mourn? I write.)

A young man named Hans Petersen, 2 1/2 years ago on the top of Bald Hill, picked up pebbles and arranged them into a sacred word - φως - light, in Greek. I had just begun my Greek studies but I knew it meant light, which was the first word (in English) I'd spoken as a baby. And I knew, then and there, that I'd like this crazy guy at least as much as our mutual friends told me I would.

Hans and I shared many more a hike, a meal, an evening of song... often with long silences between, which were usually broken by long self-deprecating voicemails he'd leave me by way of apology. He broke our longest silence not more than a month ago, all but showing up on my doorstep like an orphan child not expecting to be taken in -- I took him in -- fed him -- caught up on life. I'd been gone for a year in Oregon. He was doing better than he had been, overworking on his job installing solar panels, but enjoying it, finding a new balance in life, putting one foot in front of the other. It was good to reconnect.
Yesterday he fell off a roof (on the job) and died. Too young, too vibrant, too alive for this to make any sense. I don't know how to mourn his death. But I do know how to celebrate his resurrection.

I hiked that same hill tonight and found pebbles to write his sacred word -- φως -- LIGHT. I didn't do it as carefully as he did... I could never be as meticulous as he was about little things. He'd place every pebble with a pointillist's love, where I scrape and pile with big painterly strokes. But I wrote it for him, and stayed there until the sunset light slipped off the pebbles and made its way to the ocean.
A hymn about heaven tells me of "sweet fields arrayed in living green, and rivers of delight." They were around me up there -- I could almost touch them myself.

A random fact about Hans: he really loved being naked (and in all kinds of settings... where you don't expect to encounter naked people...) He'd skinnydip at the drop of a hat, and apparently got in trouble with the police in Oberlin OH for this alleged crime.
I do hope he's skinnydipping in rivers of delight right now. I do hope St Peter's not too strict about the white robe thing. Actually, it's not a hope, I'll call it a prayer, and a certainty. That having flown in all his broken beauty to a place where there is no sorrow or sickness, his spirit is reveling in everything it touches, with that open-hearted awe that captivated all of us here.

We'll miss you, Hans.
See you there.


  1. praise the Lord for the resurrection. until we all reunite again on God's glorious throne...prayers of comfort and peace for you my dear friend.

  2. Thank you so much for this. --A friend of Hans'

  3. In our deepest darness, we cried out for comfort. It has come to us in many ways: tears, hugs, phone calls, eails, thoughts and prayers, cards and words of caring, a loss for words and silence, presence, sermons, memories of Hans shared, Facebook and website posts, flowers, food, liturgy and hymns, memorial services and celebrations of Hans' life, and memorial gifts in honor of Hans. This comfort has come from every corner of the United States, and even around the world. For your part in helping us along our journey of grief, we are grateful. And we are humbled that Hans lives on in the hearts of many. With grateful hearts,
    Carol and Glenn Petersen

  4. Carol and Glenn,
    thanks so much commenting. my heart and prayers continue to go out to you...
    with love