There were only two words on that 1965 postcard. OV OU. On the back – a glistening ski slope, an impossibly blue backdrop, spearing sunbeams.
My parents and older brother had gone skiing in Vermont and I was (inexplicably) left home with Mrs. Tidd, the babysitter.
Then it came to me. OV was pronounced /uv/ and OU, /oo/.
It was code for “Love you.”
I remember smiling. Granted, it was small consolation for working on my multiplication table with Mrs. Tidd and not being part of what was clearly snowy bliss.
But the words “ov ou” stuck. And now I say them to my grown daughter, Alex. (Only occasionally – lest I veer toward sentimentalism. A fine line!)
We all desire messages of love. All of us.
In some families you squeeze a loved one’s hand three times to communicate I-Love-You.
In other families three car honks is code — especially meaningful when that car is heading off to college, a new job, a distant home.
But what if..
All cars have driven off..as they inevitably do.
And there’s no one left to squeeze your hand.
And there is no postcard to reread.
That’s when you listen for God’s whisper – a love message especially for you.
It may take the form of gentle snow flakes, a baby’s cooing, a child’s giggle, an accomplishment at work you never imagined could happen, a sudden tingling that says you are not alone.
God is playing music for your soul and maybe even asking you to dance.
For sure he’s saying, OV OU.
My brother Charles signs off letters and emails with LLL (love, love, love).
As our father lay dying, Charles wrote the following essay.
For a long time, I did not think my parents were mortal. Once, in a conversation with a friend, I said “If my parents die…” My friend interrupted: “ ‘If’? You must have very strong parents!” Near the end, the books my Dad requested that we read together left little doubt about the facts of mortality. Last fall we read eyewitness accounts of the Napoleonic wars. In the winter Dad wanted to take on histories of the successful defense of the city of Stalingrad against the German assault that ended in February 1943. Our last excursion involved submarine warfare in the Pacific during the second world war.
There is an enormous literature on dying, death, and grieving. There is probably even a handbook: The Idiot’s Guide to Death. But none that I have read so far highlight the importance of reading about battles or, more specifically, sub-mariner life. I suspect, however, that in my Dad’s final year, at 95 years old, after a stroke and confined to a bed, he had great empathy with those who lived in cramped conditions and tried to dodge torpedoes and depth charges. He seemed equally interested in the lives of the hunted and the hunters, of submarines on the attack and in defense, as well as the anti-submarine tactics involving radar and noisemakers. (A noisemaker is attached to the rear of a ship and is designed to guide torpedoes away from the ship’s hull.) Three weeks ago, he requested that the reading stop, and conversation became difficult.
There are some wonderful poems and literary images of entering the next life by ship. When St. Paul writes of his longing to leave this life for the hereafter with Christ, the Greek term that is translated ‘leaving’ is the same for ‘lifting anchor.’ I am not acquainted with any works that describe entering the next life in a submarine but in the fourteenth century poem, The Divine Comedy, there is a brief passage in which Dante travels toward paradise through purgatory almost completely submerged in water.
Whatever your favorite poetic vehicle (I am particularly fond of Elijah going to heaven in a chariot with horses of fire), there is a resilient Christian tradition (testified to by Dante among others) that the way to heaven must be through love. In the English spiritual manual, The Cloud of Unknowing –also fourteenth century—there is some simple, interesting advice on approaching God through periods of trial which the author pictures as a great cloud. The writer (we don’t know his or her name) recommends that whenever you feel lost in the search for God, you should repeat the words “love” or “God” a lot; both words amount to the same thing for “God is love” (I John 4:8). “This word [love] shall be your shield and your spear whether you ride in peace or in war. With the word “love” you shall beat upon the cloud and the darkness, which are above you. With this word you shall strike down thoughts of every kind and drive them beneath the cloud of forgetting.” In the end, the author of The Cloud of Unknowing holds that love must take precedence over all other thoughts and emotions: “God may be reached and held close by means of love, but by means of thought never.”
Two weeks before he died, Dad and I had the following exchange. I said: “I really love you, Daddy.” He said: “Don’t make me cry.” Neither of us cried. We held hands. “You know, Dad, when you get to the other side, there might be lots of questions. I hear that it’s a good idea to say the word ‘love’ a lot.” He squeezed my hand three times and said:
“Love. Love. Love.”