Some Words to a Friend

“People do not die for us immediately, but remain bathed in a sort of aura of life which bears no relation to true immortality but through which they continue to occupy our thoughts in the same way as when they were alive. It is as though they were traveling abroad.” ― Marcel Proust

Death has been near over the past weeks. Friends and family have experienced loss, some expected, others very sudden. A dear friend from my past recently went through the slow decline and then death of her spouse. What in the world could I say or write down to offer as comfort? Friends have lost a parent, sibling, close friends. One friend is flying halfway around the world to bury his father. Some have colleagues at work who have become gravely ill and are fearful. My own loss was in 2019, but the pandemic has made it seem like a never ending misery.

“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.” ― William Shakespeare

Image result for walking together on the beach sunset

What I did was sit and make a list describing my experiences, hoping something might help or encourage. Maybe something would be useful to others I know (and don’t) who are also traveling this kind of road.

“When someone you love dies, and you’re not expecting it, you don’t lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time—the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes—when there’s a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she’s gone, forever—there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.” ― John Irving

  1. There’s a hard part every day. Sometimes it’s a simple little routine, like coming out of Starbucks (her favorite haunt). Other times, like today, it’s a letter from my niece telling me about her upcoming wedding. I’m not writing about all the fond remembrances. What I mean here is a punch in the gut, a difficult swerve in the road that can take my breath away. Hard parts are not to be avoided. They are an important piece of the journey. It is what it is.
  2. This isn’t something that one day you will “get over” or “put behind you” – despite all of the best sentiments of your loved ones and even casual acquaintances. I think living with loss is a permanent part of life.
  3. Memory is a living, breathing presence.
  4. For others, even family, a segment of their life has gone, someone who filled an important part. But the rest of their lives goes on, day by day. For you, your ENTIRE life has now been scattered to the four winds and what’s left will need to be reordered, from the ground up. The rest of your circle does not share the same experience.
  5. Some parts of life and living will need to be changed as you walk into your next chapter. But other parts should remain as healthy anchors to what mean so much (see #3)
  6. There are probably other people that will need some of your attention and love – because of their own loss and grief. You are the closest person they have who remains.
  7. Re-establishing a new routine is vital. It’s little things that will matter. The current circumstances are making this nearly impossible.
  8. I had to gently tell people to stop asking me if there was anything I needed. Instead I said, if you feel like there’s something you should do, it’s probably God’s Spirit nudging you to action. Don’t let me get in the way!
  9. Spending so much time alone has turned me into a real chatterbox when I’m with others. At times I stand beside myself and look over and don’t even recognize who I’ve become. It tells me how much I need social interaction – this pandemic is unhealthy for all of us – even without catching COVID.
  10. Eating meals alone has become a problem:
    • I’ve stopped cooking
    • There are too many leftovers when I do
    • I am too often poisoning myself with past its due date food
    • Then there’s always the danger of developing scurvy
    • I’m eating pre-made salads with kale now, yuck!
  11. I’m having to learn how to play two roles at once. Activities I could ignore and take for granted because she was managing all of that (keeping up with details about family members for example) now need my full attention. Things now happen – or don’t because I’m not asking questions or expressing wishes. I’ve got to be more aware as I’m 100% of this now non-existent couple.
  12. Because of the social isolation caused by the pandemic, I’m having a hard time figuring out the cause of the drift I experience in my life. Will it pass once the global virus is gone? Or is this my new norm that I need to become more hands-on about?
  13. I have experienced WONDERFUL connections to family and friends who hang on to me and keep my head above the waters – gifts from God every single day.

“Don’t go through life; grow through life.” ― Eric Butterworth

There’s Always Two Sides

I was listening to a video of Judy Collins singing the Joni Mitchell song “Both Sides Now” – got me into a very reflective mood. Again.

Surely this great quarantine has also provided you with some reflective moods now and then. What has this incredible shut down forced you to think about while sitting outside under the trees? What fears are lurking around the next corner? What new goals have you decided to set for yourself?  Deciding to be a better person in your relationships (someone else making this decision for you)?

“…how sad and bad and mad it was – but then, how it was sweet” ― Robert Browning

For a long while now I’ve been putting down poems on my phone. Don’t tell anyone. First of all, I still can’t believe I’m the owner of a cell phone. Secondly, I actually know poets. They would be horrified that I was sitting in parking lots letting words, ideas and feeling spill onto my iPhone.

I’m in my first year as a widower. One of the recent stream of consciousness poems I jotted down was the reflection that “everyday there’s a hard part” – doesn’t usually last long, but it’s consistent.

Joni Mitchell’s song makes me think about the two divisions of life that I’ve lived (am now living). You should go read the lyrics with the song playing. Here’s a portion:

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions that I recall
I really don’t know love
Really don’t know love at all

Maybe this terrible time of isolation has shown you another side of life. Another side of your own life? What if one of the hidden blessings of this tragedy is that you’ve gotten a brief glimpse of what’s over the wall?

In my life, this other side of the wall without my wife isn’t going to go away.  Everyday, there’s a reminder out of the blue – the hard part. As far as this “shut down” goes, it will end. We will probably have a new normal – I’m working on planning a different way to do college classes this fall. But, we are all going to come back home to a version of where we left.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” ― Søren Kierkegaard

“Both Sides Now” reminds me that there’s always a danger that when I go back to the new normal I could slip back into that automatic living I was doing before.

Shakespeare wrote, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” I listen to Judy Collins sing that song (1976!) and for me, it’s true, I didn’t know how to really love. I see that now from this side.

But when this quarantine ends, I’m going to live with as few regrets as I can, because I’ve seen a little bit of both sides of me.

What about you?

 

“Now the wren has gone to roost and the sky is turnin’ gold
And like the sky my soul is also turnin’
Turnin’ from the past, at last and all I’ve left behind”
― Ray Lamontagne

Magic Moments

“To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.”
― G.K. Chesterton

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My wife is hollering at me (still) because I won’t answer her question (still). She’s holding the SUV door open and trying to get some information from me. I’m listening to a song on the radio. It’s a familiar song with some powerful lyrics that poetically capture my state of being. I’m having a magic moment. I am vaguely aware that there’s this woman yelling at me, trying to get my attention, asking a very simple question over and over and I’m just trying to ignore her hoping I can stay in the magic until the song ends.

“It’s just a song on the radio!” my wife tells me as she marches off to get me something from Starbucks. She’s right. These days I grasp for those magic moments just like I used to reach for that inner tube racing past me while I rode the rapids down the Guadalupe. There may not be another one coming for a while.

“My soul is in the sky” – William Shakespeare (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

There is nothing but the mundane all around us every minute. And then something breaks through and there’s a magic moment waiting. That student across the desk last night who needed to hear from someone a word of hope. He has tasted so much failure. His whole life is ahead of him. He thinks what really matters right now is his final exam. But there’s so much more he needs to believe. I engineer a magic moment and there are tears in his eyes as he hears some truth he hadn’t expected.

“There are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally. It may be conceded to the mathematician that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one.” ― G.K. Chesterton

The phone in my pocket rings and I answer it. That in itself is a magic moment. I don’t like to talk on the phone. It’s usually turned off because I don’t want it ringing in class or meetings. I fight an endless battle with my students who are hopelessly addicted to their phones.

I had just finished signing a stack of legal documents. My mind had been drifting and dreaming about the here and now and days to come. As I walked out the door, my phone call came.

It was a magic moment. A friend from far away in the desert called. He just wanted five or ten minutes. That’s all I had. We talked for about thirty. We caught up a little, laughed and shared some information. It was over before it started. I sat out in the parking lot for most of it. It was one of those timing experiences, when everything seems to fall into place and you look back and wonder, “how did everything I didn’t even know I needed happen just like that?” Magically, a book he had sent and inscribed was in the mailbox the very next day.

“To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude.” – Henri Nouwen

The Apostle John wrote, “If a person owns the kinds of things we need to make it in the world but refuses to share with those in need, is it even possible that God’s love lives in him?” (I John 3:17, The Voice). In my world one of the most valuable things that people give up is time. These days, one of the things I need “to make it in the world” is a magic moment on the phone out in the parking lot.

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”  ― W.B. Yeats

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened…”  – Ephesians 1:18