We don't go there very often.
I was trying to remember the last time. Not Christmas, not Jack's 16th birthday, not even the 3rd crapiversary of losing him. (Sometimes I feel like saying we misplaced him, rather than we lost him, because I know he is so very near, just out of sight, but that's a topic for another blog.)
I've heard from folks who do go to Jack's bench for us, and we are grateful for that.
Yesterday I was meeting a friend at a Starbucks almost directly across from the cemetery. If that seems weird, I'll remind you that there's a lot of weird in our lives: at least 6 car trips a day over the spot where Jack's body was found, Bible study once a week in our old neighborhood, and many, many other oddities about staying here in the town where our greatest joys and sorrows are intermingled. Today, for instance, traffic was stopped on the road while a work crew cut down trees that were encroaching on power lines. My car was stopped right next to the cross that marks where Jack's body was found.
I was sitting there, listening to music and telling Jack I love him, when I got a text from a friend. She was directly behind me, stopped also, and the situation was not lost on her. Not lost on me was that if those trees had been cut 4 years ago, we would not have lost power and things might have ended differently for Jack. In today's moment of loss, love, communion, and the mystery of God's ways, was a text from someone who cared enough to acknowledge that ordinary/extraordinary moment.
Okay, that was quite a digression. Let's get back to Starbucks.
So yesterday I waited at Starbucks for a sweet friend who didn't show up because she got the date confused. Long holiday weekends will do that to you. With extra time on my hands, I thought, "Well, I guess I could go the cemetery and sit on Jack's bench since it's right over there." So I did. Nothing dramatic happened, but it was a simple, quiet moment in my day. Later, my friend and I decided to reschedule for this afternoon, but when I got to Starbucks, I heard from her that she was not able to make it. She really had tried to stop me, but an earlier text hadn't gone through. I laughed to be in sitting in the same Starbucks two days in a row. "Well, okay," I thought, "maybe I should give the cemetery another shot."
I drove the few feet down the busy road and parked, telling myself to keep my heart open for whatever the experience would be. There was another car on the gravel path near Jack's bench, with two people tending a grave nearby. I thought maybe I was there to reach out to them with a smile or encouragement. I mean, I hadn't been there in more than a year, yet there I was, two days in row and there were people not 5 feet away from where I was going. Please tell me I'm not the only one who enters random situations looking for how I can be of help. I sure hope it's more a case of trying to stay open to the nudge of the Holy Spirit than of thinking I'm God's gift to the world. Ack.
So, I smiled and said hi and, noticing the dates, asked the older lady if the grave was for her son. She nodded. I pointed to Jack's bench and said, "Mine's over there," but there was no recognition from her. Her son's gravestone was inscribed in Spanish, so I guessed she didn't understand what I was trying to say.
I went over and sat on Jack's bench. It didn't feel any different from the day before, but I did note that I couldn't get on my computer, or busy myself with other distractions like laundry and dog pee, which was good.
Soon, smoke was wafting over to me. Ugh. The man who came with the old woman was smoking a cigarette. The sun beat down, and the granite bench was hot. I didn't have some lovely, spiritual experience, and I probably lasted all of five minutes. But I came away with the understanding that this place could be a place for me to sit and pray, not just a place for others.
"You leave so soon?" smoking man asked as I walked toward him, giving me the impression that their visits were more frequent and of longer duration than mine. I stopped to talk, and found out his brother was the one buried there. He had died of a heart attack at 35, leaving behind four children. The man asked about Jack, and I told him. I told him my mother was buried next to Jack's bench.
"You okay?" he asked, in heavily accented English. I nodded. "But you okay?" he asked again. "Yes, yes, I'm okay," I answered with a smile.
Because of the context of this conversation, I knew this wasn't the quick, "How are you?" "I'm fine," of so many conversations. This was a man who had lost a brother, who drove his mother to the cemetery often. Whose nieces and nephews, age 10-16, were fatherless. He knew that okay can mean different things.
It can't erase the pain of the past or a future we never wanted, but my OKAY can say:
- I'm okay being here today, even though I don't come often.
- I am okay learning the rhythm of a different family life.
- The anger and despair have abated.
- I experience joy and laughter every single day.
- I can see beyond my own family's problems and pain now, and it feels good to care for others.
- I am reminded again and again that LOVE DOESN'T DIE. Nope.
Yeah, life is far from perfect, but I'm okay today. I don't know if I went to the cemetery for Jack, for me, for that mom, or for her son, but I'm guessing I'll go back sooner rather than later and be open to whatever the experience is like.
I also realized I want to plant a big 'ole tree there. If mama's going to hang out on the bench every once and a while, there might as well be a place to hang a birdhouse and get some much-needed shade.