A friend of mine died a while back. She took her life.
It’s impossible to capture her wild, flamboyant, exuberant, troubled, thoughtful, generous life. But all of us who gathered for her memorial service tried. We brought bits and pieces, shadows and rumors, of her. We heard her laugh. We recalled her kindness. And we lamented the insidious, heavy visitor that tracked her, catching her, pulling her under. Depression is so cruel.
The service gave me a gift, one I didn’t know I needed. It was the gift of honoring seasons of friendship, and honoring limitations. It was a breeze that slowly unfurled the subtle shame I had been carrying, even as I drove to the funeral. I knew the shame was there, but couldn’t articulate it clearly. During recent years as I stepped into a new era - new marriage, learning and loving my step-daughters, new town, maintaining my calling - I have felt self-focused, unable to keep up with the needs of those with whom I have history, those I genuinely care about. I felt ashamed of my silence, my absence. I suppose this is where shame is exposed as predominantly self-focused or prideful (how could anyone think they could love all people, perfectly?), but when it is born of the conflict with genuine love, it is a bit of a mess.
I loved my friend, and had an intense season with her, years back. Her bellowing laugh filled that season, but also middle of the night calls of despair, doctor visits, relentless prayers, fights for life itself. And then, in a blink, many years went by without much contact. My friend’s death punctuated more than my unplanned silence in her life. It invited a musing about the seeming string of friends I have left behind, friendships untended, not pursued. I say ‘seeming’ because I know the truth about how my heart holds those friends – cherished, with great affection. So how did that fit with being out of touch? I felt sad and justified at once, but with a slight shadow on my face.
The pastor who spoke at the memorial service is someone for whom I have great respect. I paraphrase, but this is what she said: we all did what we could for our friend in our own way, in our own season, we all gave what we could give, we all did our best, and we all failed and none of us failed.
The breeze came. And with it a few reminders that set my heart free.
Community. What a loaded word. The thought of it makes me happy, and makes me want to run. I smile because it is the thing that always makes up for my lack. It makes me want to run because it exposes what I lack. And I make it more than it is supposed to be. Sitting in that memorial service with so many who loved my friend before, during, after, simultaneous to my season with her, reminded me that community is imperative, and saves everyone who is a part of it. She could not have fought her battle without any one of those people. And every one of those people could not have fought, over time, without the others. Our friend’s life fostered that community. God’s love expanded that community. The community was enough, and of course it failed.
Limitations. This is similar, but important. The Hebrew word Shabath is of course the notion of Sabbath. Rest. It has a multi-tiered meaning: ‘cease or desist,’ ‘to stop,’ ‘to take a break.’ My favorite, which will be no surprise, is ‘to celebrate,’ which means to have a party as we admire what we, and God, have created. But there is another tier to the meaning of Shabath: ‘to suffer what is lacking.’ Think about that for a minute. When you think about taking just one day away from all that pulls on you, shabath is exactly what is being asked of your heart. Jesus, in his love, is saying, “Please allow something to be lacking. For just a little while don’t consider yourself imperative to the progress of the world. And don’t consider yourself complete without me.” As Sally Breedlove says, “We find rest in the incompleteness of what is and as we trust what is needed for the future at the proper time.” As I wrote in Listening to Love, I often “refuse to suffer what is lacking , because I figure nothing should be lacking as long as I’m around.” Yeah, no pride there. As I suffer what was lacking in my love for my friend, I find rest.
I still hope to be a better long-term, historical, loyal person. But today I am glad I knew my friend. I love what we had, when we had it. She was my friend in death as much as my friend a while back. I loved her. I am grateful to say I failed, and by grace, I loved her well.