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Summary: Thomas dealt with his loss by postponing his choices and by absenting himself from the community. We do the same; but the nailprints of our shame and our guilt tell the truth about us.

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We respond to loss in a variety of ways. There is no

predicting how people will act when they lose something they

cherish. I have seen everything from screaming and wailing

to solid stoicism to outright laughter. I have conducted

funerals where people have wept openly, and others where

they have checked their watches to make sure they didn’t

miss a good TV show! There is no predicting how people

will behave when they deal with loss. Sometimes they will do

things that don’t seem to make sense; but somehow, in their

own souls, it works. Loss is a strange taskmaster.

I was nine years old when I first looked serious loss in the

face. My eighty-five-year old grandfather was suddenly a still

body in a bed, and I didn’t know what to do. I knew that he

meant much to me. He had taught me how to use tools; to

this day when I attempt some little bit of carpentry I

remember what he taught me about using a handsaw. I

knew that he had shown me the value of being organized; I

can still see his basement workshop, with all the screws and

bolts classified by size and in neatly labeled jars. This man

meant much to me, and taught me much, but now he was

dead. I didn’t know what to do with a child’s grief.

A few weeks later my grandmother decided that she no

longer wanted to live alone, and so she moved to an

apartment. My father undertook to remodel the place,

because it was quite a mess. The previous tenants had not

treated Apartment 4 kindly. Screens had to be repaired,

broken windows had to be replaced, and, above all, a

disgraceful bathroom had to be renovated. My father

decided that in that bathroom he would use a product then

new on the market, because it would easily cover the gaping

holes in the old walls. He would use rubber tile on the

bathroom walls. Rubber tile was soft and pliable, easy to

work with, and easy to clean. Rubber tile was just the thing

for that bathroom. And when my father was done, he was

justifiably proud of the look of the place. Gleaming, clean,

soft-looking, soft-feeling rubber tile freshened up that

bathroom beautifully.

There was something about that stuff, however, that

attracted my curiosity. I could not resist touching that tile,

feeling it, prodding it, wanting to get a sense of what it was

really like. That afternoon I kept going back to the bathroom

to poke at the rubber tile one more time – just to know what it

felt like. But now remember, this was a construction site,

and on the floor of the bathroom my dad had dropped a stray

nail. I picked up that nail and used it to probe at one soft,

spongy tile, particularly where it covered a big hole in the

original wall. I poked, I prodded, I pushed, I probed, and

pretty soon I plunged that nail into the tile. I put a hole in my

father’s pristine creation. It was very obvious; a perfect

piece of work marred by an ugly, ragged, nailprint.

Later that day my father bellowed for me to get in that room

and explain this thing right away. I did about what you would

expect a nine-year-old boy to do. I hemmed and I hawed; I

pretended to know nothing. In a word, I lied. But my father


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