Sunday, May 6, 2007

What It Means to Say "I Love You"

It's been a quiet weekend here in Lake....wait a minute. That's not how this goes. And it's not exactly been a quiet weekend here in the southwest corner of our world, but it's not been a completely awful one either. Perspective being everything, I can make spending a good two-thirds of my weekend in the car between the homestead and Collierville, racing along the southern leg of State Highway 385 one of the more positive highlights of the past 72 hours.

Did I mention there's no air conditioning in the Stealth Outback? Did I mention that here, the first weekend in May, it's been 90 degrees with 75% freaking humidity? Did I mention that, round-trip between the homestead and Collierville is about 17 miles, which isn't that far, unless you're driving with no air conditioning, in 90 degree heat with 75% humidity (freaking or otherwise)?

Dear Daughter is in final production for a play she's in with the local Children's Theatre group. It's a great group of kids she's in with, and the script was written by Best Friend, so she's doubly excited. On top of makeup clinic and choreography practice back-to-back on Saturday, this afternoon, she and the 11 other "princesses" in the show performed -- along with their corresponding princes -- at the Collierville Celebration on the Square. Now, my daughter is as un-ethnic as un-ethnic can possibly be (supposing, of course, that in this enlightened day and age, very White, very Anglo-Saxon and very Anglo-Catholic Protestant can't be counted as ethnic), so watching her do the Electric Slide and the Macarena was kind of ....well, funny, but she's really working hard on this performance and, as always, the space in my chest always seems too small to hold my heart when I'm watching her do something she loves so much. She's a bright and lovely young lady and having a fairly major role in this production has done wonders for her in many ways. We always think of our children as special, but this play has helped her feel extra-special, and for that I am exceedingly glad.

But four round-trips to Collierville this weekend...good gravy. Can I just say out loud how awfully tired I am of being in the car, especially a car with NO AIR CONDITIONING????!!!!

This afternoon I went to Therese's funeral. It was (as I think I've adequately stated) warm and humid. As she had people from all over this corner of the south, there were lots of cars with tags beginning with the letter "M." Since I wasn't exactly sure where in the cemetery to go, I pulled up next to a gold Cadillac hearse with out of town plates and asked if the passenger was "Mrs. T." Gosh, thinking of her as a "Mrs. anybody" was kind of a stretch. Not that I don't think the world of her husband and her sweet daughter, but my poor mind is still having trouble getting around the idea that we're no longer 15 and walking around the neighborhood at 9 p.m. on a Saturday night.


But there were quite a few people I knew, and they all remembered me. Growing up redheaded, we learned early that we shouldn't commit crimes. And that's not just because it would be wrong, but redheaded people are generally easier to pick out of a lineup. And so even at a sedate event such as a funeral, I was easy to spot. Which turned out to be a good thing. I spent some wonderful moments speaking with Therese's family--her parents, her cousins, her brother, her stepfather, the childhood friend of her mother, her husband, her lovely little daughter.

When I first saw her daughter, I thought I would burst into tears. Her eyes, her smile and the way she floated among the flowers was so much like her mother. In an instant, the years melted away and it was like I was seeing Therese for the first time, when we were on the brink of our teen years. She's a happy girl, again like her mother, and seemed to be doing well. It's a beautiful thing and a testament to a remarkable faith that a child can find happiness on the day of her mother's funeral.

I walked among the people, shaking hands, hugging people, and searching for words to say. What do you say to an aging mother who is burying her only daughter? The words I kept saying, and kept hearing others say to me were "It's so good to see you." And despite everything--despite the heat and the distance and the years and the vault with the short span of years engraved on the lid and the light maple casket and cloying scent of carnations and roses in the air, it was good to see them, each and every one of them. We could have stood in that cemetery next to that gaping hole for hours catching up and clasping hands and wiping tears.

There were two preachers. They both knew and loved the family well. One read the twenty-third psalm. Another led while we all sang the first verse of "Amazing Grace." We wiped away tears as we recited the Lord's Prayer together. Can you understand why it was okay that we lingered there, in the heat, under the stifling green funeral home tent, next to that gaping hole in the ground with the cemetery workers hovering nearby with their idling backhoe? Despite everything, despite death and sorrow and loss and pain, it was good to see them again.

It is in these moments when we say goodbye that we realize just how much those first hellos mean, and how far-reaching they are.

Fly away, friend, fly away.

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