It’s 5:33 in the morning.
Favorite just left on another business trip. I walked downstairs with him and we had the sort of practical shorthand conversation that sounds transactional but is really what life and love most often look like.
“Make sure Littlest does his summer reading.”
“If Em needs more boxes, there are some in the garage.”
“Maybe let Johnny drive you tomorrow.”
“Text me when you get to the airport.”
It’s not the stuff we dream of when we’re young and it’s not the stuff that makes its way into most romantic movies, but it’s love, all right. We are really saying,
“I love him,”
“I love them.”
“I love you.”
“I love you.”
Today, I’ll get some writing done. I’ll do the (neverending) laundry. I’ll do some positive affirmation-ing with the Bad Dog. I have decided he can be Good. We’re working on it. We’ll put stuff in boxes. I’ll go to work. I’ll come home, make dinner.
Then tomorrow I’ll bury a friend and send my youngest kid off to college.
Yesterday, a dear friend started singing Circle of Life to me on the phone. I busted out laughing which eventually, inevitably, morphed into crying.
There’s been a lot of circle imagery floating around this summer.
I was explaining to the kids a while back about how penguins take care of each other. About how when male penguins are guarding the eggs they form a tightly packed circle and take turns cycling in toward the center for warmth. Cold penguins in the center. It’s such an efficient and sensible love.
At Wild Goose, Jen Hatmaker told a story about how, during a difficult season, a friend told her that when a mama elephant is about to give birth the other female elephants back into a circle around her and stomp their feet to raise dust to ward off predators. They give her a protected little circle of real estate in which to usher new life into the world and to rest after. And when the baby is born and the mama is okay they lift their trunks and they trumpet.
Isn’t that beautiful?
Animals know what most human animals have forgotten. We are not meant to do this life alone. We’re not wired for it. And certainly not when we are wounded or tired or sick or addicted. There. I think that covers just about all of humanity.
We need to circle up.
I went to my beach meeting the other day and my eyes automatically went to the empty space. The gap where my friend should be.
I’ll look for him this morning, too. It’ll be that way for a while, I suppose.
Here’s the thing, though. The gap will not remain. We’ll close ranks for a minute to grieve. The fear will hover like a shadow in the circle – a palpable presence. It seems tangible, but it’s not. It will only stay if we hang on to it. People will say their names and tell the truth. Then people will name their fear. Then someone will say they’re new and we will widen the circle again.
We’ll make more room because the circle breathes. It expands and contracts and expands again. People come, we welcome. They go, we worry. They come back, we celebrate. They die, we grieve.
I know for a while I will look out to the periphery of the circle, where he always hovered, and look for his sweet smile. It won’t be there. But I’ll catch glimpses of him in new people. Someone will raise their hand soon enough and say they’re new and scared and willing. And I’ll see that shimmer of grace that seems ephemeral but is as real and solid as the rocks in the jetty that arcs out from the beach where we meet to fight for our lives.
Tomorrow night I’ll drive my kid to the airport. Right now we’re in a frantic place, trying to cobble together a new plan for transporting all their stuff 3,ooo miles to where they’ll be going to school.
Soon, there’ll be an empty room and an empty chair at the dinner table.
I have a million, billion things to do, so naturally, I am going through old pictures. I came across one from their kindergarten year. I was perpetually in the classroom as a volunteer and this photo was snapped during circle time. Em’s teacher, the incomparable Mrs. Stewart, was standing and talking to her little band of hooligans, and Em’s face was so engaged, just completely lit up. That kid has always loved to learn.
That circle seems like five minutes ago. Soon, they’ll undoubtedly be in a circle at freshman orientation. I met Favorite in a just such a circle, and here we are thirty years later, having found one another again.
Tomorrow, we’ll likely be in a circle at the cemetery saying goodbye to our friend.
I’ll spend this morning saying things like,
“Don’t forget to pack your extra chargers.”
“We need to weigh the suitcases,”
“Did you eat yet?”
I love you, I love you, I love you.
Tomorrow it’ll be,
“We’re here. You’re not alone.”
“He loved you,”
“He loved you,”
“He loved you.”
It’s 6:10 in the morning.
Heading off to circle up. Cold penguins to the center.