And So I Tell Your Story

When I was eighteen, my aunt gave me a copy of her favorite book: a small parable about the love of flight.  

It was a thin volume that contained a simple yet deep story which had, over the course of her life, become increasingly important to her because the person who had given it to her, my grandfather, had loved it very much.  In fact, he had been the one who passed the book on to her.  

And she, years after he died, shared it with me.  

And when I met you, I couldn’t help but think of how much you reminded me of the central character in that book.  I remember telling you about it during the first few weeks that our own story began to unfold.   

In fact, that book, and the story it contained, was my first gift to you.  And when I handed it to you, I couldn’t help but feel that the love of my grandfather’s original gift was somehow living on. 

That’s what happens when a good story is passed on: it honors and brings to mind the person responsible for originally sharing it.  The story my grandfather left our family decades ago, to this day, remains a gift.  

And in that same way, six years ago, when God started writing the story of you and I, it too became a story worth sharing.

And I do share it.  Constantly.  

That story, our story, I flip and read through it so often in my head, and I speak of it so much, that I sometimes worry that, over the course of time, some of the details will eventually fade away or distort. Or that some of the pages will be loosened from their binding and possibly be lost or lose their meaning.

I worry that our story will become so worn out, that there will be days, weeks, months, and even years where I won’t even think to reach for it, because I’ll begin to believe that a story that was lived so long ago couldn’t possibly have anything new to offer anyone. Even myself.

I worry about these things every time someone asks me how long I plan to let your loss define me.  

And to be honest, I’m not sure how long defining moments in our lives are allowed to keep defining us.  I’m not sure they ever actually stop?  

What I do know though is that lament and the telling of the stories of our dead is in our bones. 

In fact, for thousands of years, in countless civilizations, the stories of the dead so strongly rattled in the bones of those who loved them, that their grief would pour loudly onto city streets. Displays of lament became so disruptive that eventually laws were put into place in an effort to contain them. Grief was viewed as something to be done out loud; a “discourse of pain” between humans in the throes of mourning and the throne room of God. In some places, the real tragedy was a death that was left unnoticed, unmourned, and “unscreamed.”

The stories of our dead were always meant to be told – to be shared – and so I share yours. I share your story with others so others can then share theirs with me: A call and response about people we love. A growing song of lament.

I share your story because, when I do, the One who wrote it knows that His gift was good. 

And you were a good story… a beautiful one. Albeit, one with too few chapters.

And though I would have written your story very differently… And though I sobbed, tore at my skin, and pleaded at God’s feet that you should be granted a longer one: as time has gone on, I am beginning to see that I could not have actually written it any better.

And so I tell it.  As it was and as it is.  

I speak of your story, which like the one I got from my aunt decades ago, was a gift whose importance I could never have conceived of when it was first, from God’s hands, placed into mine.

On Falling Stars

I told you my favorite constellation once.

It was when we first met, and you were telling me about the place you lived and how the skies got so dark over there, that you could see more stars than you had ever seen before in your life.

I remember asking you if you could see Cassiopeia, a constellation of five stars that formed the outline of a queen who was trapped on her throne. I remember telling you that I always found myself looking for her in the skies.   

I’m not sure what it was about that specific arrangement of stars that always spoke to me, but I guess there was something about the image of someone being helplessly spun around as the world turned beneath her that seemed, in a way, relatable.  

The world always appeared to me as it must have to Cassiopeia: swirling and unstable with no fixed horizon in sight.  I guess I saw myself in her…a constellation that could only be made sense of from light years away, here on Earth.  

I imagine that the five stars that make her up have no idea that they are a part of a larger story which can only be seen with the perspective of someone far away and far removed from them.  I doubt the stars understand that each of them play a role in giving the other four stars meaning and purpose.  I doubt they know they are a crucial part of a cosmic pattern that appears random when up close, but from a distance, makes more sense than it has any reason to.   

I imagine each star in Cassiopeia thinks itself to be alone and purposeless with no idea that there are other stars, just like them, depending on their light and existence to make sense of their own. 

And that’s when I think of you, and I wonder if that’s what it was like for you when you died.  I wonder if you were able to see the light and sense you brought to the world and the people who knew you.  

I imagine you, like the stars within a constellation, could not begin to comprehend how many people depended on your life and the light it brought to make sense of their own lives.  How could someone possibly see or perceive the vital role they play in the configuration of other people’s lives while they are living their own?  

I can’t speak for others, but I know for me, when you died, it was as if someone extinguished one of the five stars in Cassiopeia. 

What was once a recognizable and stable pattern was now randomness and chaos.  With you gone, I could no longer make out the form of my own life.  There was no girl.  There was no throne.  And there was no longer an Earth spinning beneath her.  

I can only imagine how many people felt the same way; people who hadn’t spoken to you in years, who had lives that had expanded far beyond the stretch of sky they met you in, were left broken and grasping to reclaim a sense of self that was inexplicably shaken by your death. 

We can’t see it from here.  Our importance.  Our role. I don’t think you could see it when you were alive.

But I have hope that you can see it now.  

I hope that is a part of the joys of Heaven, or wherever you may be: that you can see what we don’t have the perspective or distance to see until we’re gone.  I hope you can see  the lights of the people who loved you being moved into new constellations, new patterns, and new creations that had no reason to exist when you were still here with us.  

I don’t know where you live now, but I hope that if it has dark skies, you will be able to see what none of us down here can.  I don’t know what the skies of Heaven look like, but I hope we are the stars you see.  

And I hope that you can make me out from where you are and that you can see that I’m transfigured into a new constellation; one that you are still a part of somehow.  I hope you can see that I’ve found solid ground to stand on and a fixed horizon to gaze at.    

And I hope you can feel it in your soul, like I can feel it in mine, that you were the falling star that led me straight to it.  

On Finding Love Again

I treated love as a trivial thing before I met you, John.

I always believed people could will themselves into thinking they loved one another. And that loving someone, just like anything subjected to the trials of time, eventually turned into habitual duty. 

Before we met, I had a pattern:

I would spend a few months going out with friends, meeting new people, and eventually, I would find someone I figured I could will myself to love.  After careful assessment of the person and an attempt to weigh the pros and cons of being with them, I would declare to myself that, yes…I can love this person. 

And I’d tell them I loved them. And when they told me they loved me, I’d say it right back to them.

And when we would break up, I would call up a friend and cry into the phone and say, “…but I loved him.” 

And then a few months later, I would start going out with friends, meeting new people…and the cycle would repeat. 

That’s the pattern I lived out for most of my life.

That was love to me for most of my life: a lukewarm melodrama I could manifest after acting out a recycled pattern of choices that seemed to always work. And I never understood how, if this was love, anyone could will themselves into loving someone enough that something like marriage or long term partnership would ever actually work.  

But then, John… I met you.

And for the first time, love wasn’t a decision that I needed to will myself to make. 

Loving you wasn’t a choice…it was more a reality that I was asked to accept. A reality that something outside of myself was urging and willing me towards: I was simply going to love you deeply whether I wanted to or not.

But I wanted to love you. And I did, John. I absolutely loved you.

I loved you so much, in fact, that I was angry that I had ever used the word before with anyone else.  

I could see it for the first time: how the alchemy between two people could have such a charge to it, that an actual lifetime together wasn’t merely an option as much as a foregone conclusion. Something you’d be crazy not to want to try.

For the first time, my fear of the future was muted.

You would always tease me about that fear and the misguided vanity that it flowered from. You always thought it was silly that I feared how time would change the shape of my body, my face, and ultimately, would change the way you saw me.  I was always so scared of that.

And I don’t think I ever told you this when you were alive, but right before you died, I realized that I was wrong.  Not about time changing the way I looked, but about thinking that time could actually change the way you saw me.  

John, I know now, that in your eyes…I was never going to age.   

I loved you. More than my own desire to be happy. 

And something about what you did to my heart, whatever you were able to pour into it, felt like the whispers of something eternal.  

John, after spending so much of my time on this Earth searching for life and clinging to anyone or anything I met along the way that might have an idea where to find it: I met you.  I was willed to do so.

And there was nowhere else to go after that.  So I stayed where I was, and we got two years together.  And then God took you back.   

We got two years, John. 

It’s almost a laughably short amount of time to most people down here on Earth, but I don’t think most people know what two years with you can do to a person’s heart.  

And what did that time do to it? 

Did it break it?  Absolutely. 

Teach it?  Yes. 

But most importantly: That time showed my heart that it was something worth cherishing.  That it was something good. 

And then when you died, I was left with it.  

That heart you’d spent the last years of your life speaking goodness into tried as hard as it could to keep beating.  

And right around that time you’d been dead for two years, I found myself wondering how, on this Earth, I was supposed to give this heart you left me with to anyone else. 

But I tried.  

I tried my old patterns: to will myself into finding someone to love with this heart that you shaped.

I went on dates, John.  I even allowed myself to get swept up in new romances a few times.  And I’d find myself doing the same things I’d done with you, and having inside jokes, and waking up genuinely excited to have someone to talk to.  

But the love inside still had nowhere real to go.  

And I kept thinking to myself, “he would want me to love again…” And people would tell me that in order to honor you, “I should find someone to love again,” until finally it occurred to me that maybe I should just  ask you where you wanted what you left in my heart to go.  

And (through the grace of God) I heard you say: 

Babe, of course I want you to find love again.  

In fact, I want you to find it everywhere.  And in everyone.  (Even in the people you don’t like)   And even more so in the people who have hurt you. And if you find a person or a place where there is very little goodness…pour my goodness there. 

And love? Find it. Find it everywhere that I’m not.

So I’ve been doing that, John.  I’ve been wringing my heart out like a sponge on other people’s hurt, especially hurt I’ve caused.   And in the lives of our friends.  And in the lives of my students.

And, at times, I worry there will be nothing left in it.  

But in those memories I have with you, and in the words you spoke to me, and in the hands of the God you led me to, I find all the places that I can go to fill it back up with what is good.  

And with this heart you left in me, I go out into this world you left me in, and I find love again, and again, and again.  

And I’ll keep doing so.

****

(Until our hearts beat together once more, John, I will keep following that will that got me to you)