Elusion and Understanding

From “A River Runs Through It,” by Norman Maclean

“Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them — we can love completely without complete understanding.”


I did not completely understand my uncle who died Sunday.

It might be fair to say he eluded me even after sharing so much of life.

Our families were braided together long before I was born, when he and his siblings and my mother were children and my mother was in need and my uncle’s parents, whom I called grandparents, said “We are willing to help” — probably without ever saying so by words.

Like Norman Maclean’s father, my grandfather was a Presbyterian minister who knew and appreciated what was beautiful, though I do not recall him using that word as often as the Reverend Maclean was said to do.

His eldest son was also a man who cared far more than he was ever able to put into words (at least in my hearing).

I wish I’d known my uncle better. But I always understood that he and his family had understood need when it really mattered, and had known how to respond to it with an open door and an extra place at the table, forever.

Much eluded me, but I completely understand how important that family’s generosity has been in the story of my own family. And I trust my uncle understood that, too.