Part 4: Memories and Mysteries

Memories and Mysteries of Life Outlast Mysteries of Death

of the Journal Sentinel staff

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

“Alas, poor world, what treasure hast thou lost.”

Shakespeare, “Venus and Adonis”

I have known David Byrd-Felker since he was boy.

A small boast: David still was a boy when he disappeared last summer while traveling in the Ecuadorean Amazon. It is possible that, were David to read this, he would be appalled to be called a boy. He was, after all, 20 years old when he vanished from the frontier city of Zamora on July 22, 2002.

But anyone who has raised a child knows how young 20 is. David’s youth is part of the loss that we who knew him as a boy each share: We never got to know him as a man.

We saw and we were awed by the greatness of his potential — the greatness of both his porous heart and bladed intellect. The two were not unrelated; David’s heart was the whetstone upon which his mind was sharpened. He was as kind-hearted as he was intellectually penetrating, a combination of faculties that is as rare as it is fine.

A celebration of David’s life was on Saturday at the St. Benedict Center in Madison. First there was a Mass of Remembrance. The chairs in the sanctuary were then turned so that one half faced the other, and as befits David’s ecumenicalism, a Quaker Gathering was held and stories about David were shared.

David’s sister, Rachel, spoke about how deeply David is embedded in her memory, a shaping force in her life and identity. David’s father, Mike Byrd, who teaches philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, spoke of his son’s humility and lack of pretension. His mother, Maggie Felker, who is a nurse in Madison, spoke of her son’s courage in crossing boundaries, both personal and geographic.

In writing now about David, I have referred to him in the past tense. The truth is, I don’t know if he is alive or dead; there is no evidence that he is one or the other — except for the lengthening duration of his invisibility and silence. It would be foolish to pretend that the passing of time without word from David does not alter hope, but time alone is insufficient to extinguish it.

Maggie spoke about this during the Mass. She said: “This does not count as closure. What we have been given is a mystery. But that’s OK. This mystery doesn’t drive us apart. The mystery unites us.”

It is my belief that there is no mystery greater than this: the mystery of how each of us contains the other. It is the mystery that is at the heart of love itself; it is the mystery that enables life to outlast even death.

We sang about this mystery during the Mass. We sang about it in both Spanish and English. We sang:

“Somos el barco, somos el mar,

Yo navego en ti, tu navegas en mi.”

“We are the boat, we are the sea,

I sail in you, you sail in me.”