Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God. – Karl Barth
The inspiration for Sœur Odélie-Ursule-Ida-Émonde de l’Incarnation (1919 – 2020) is neither a splatter nor a stain offered up from a sidewalk, but a formation resulting from improperly sanded wood that has been painted over multiple times.
This sister goose appeared to me one Sunday morning as I sat perched in the window of my apartment on Adelphi Street, drinking my coffee. This seat gave me a view into the courtyard of the building. At the center of this courtyard, a birch tree: my father’s favorite tree. Its branches harbored little city birds, but the tree itself made music. Even on the stillest of days, the leaves would rustle. This music comforted me; this music was my father singing to me.
Through his old Bible, the one he used to read in the rocking chair by the kitchen window that overlooked the porch, and that my mother had gifted to me at the beginning of the summer, my father was also speaking to me. From beyond the grave, from a time when I was Toothpick and he was Vlegie (see Love is forgiveness, 12 March), my father had marked with little x’s and checkmarks the passages that would say for him the words he knew I would need to hear at that junction in my life: You are not alone. I am with God, and God is with you. Trust in him. His truth is the only truth, and this truth will set you free.
To look at Sœur Odélie is to know that my heart had received these words. She sits in stillness. In her pure white feathers, there is clarity and focus. In her soft gaze, peace. Her beauty is a sign of hope: even the bleakest of winters eventually cede themselves to spring. The hours Sœur Odélie has spent in mindful meditation and prayer has brought her close to God. He loves her. Under his protective wing, she has nothing to fear.
After 101 years, Sœur Odélie is no more. But in death is there not freedom from pain and suffering? In death is there not the promise of rebirth and new beginnings? There is a time for everything. Life as I had known it for the seventeen years of my marriage was dead. The time for mourning that life was past; it was time now to bury my pain and embrace my new life. It wasn’t going to be easy; nothing ever is.
Luckily, though, in my veins runs the blood of a man who understood the importance of laughter. There is no challenge great enough to resist the power of laughter. The absurdity of this piece’s title, like my father’s jokes and tricks, was an invitation to start chuckling. In the pieces that follow, invitations to laugh out loud.