We sat across the table from my life-long friend and her husband, in that familiar restaurant (shown above) where I and my family and friends have gathered for years. All around us the clinking sounds of the dishes and flatware, the ice in glasses, the voices, the aromas blended together in a kind of symphony you only hear in that place.
Across the table we looked each other in the eye and shed a tear or two…remembering being ten years old and riding bikes, going to “catfish hole” — a place in a cow pasture shaded by trees, and a make shift parade where we threw sawdust for confetti. We became those little girls again, with pony tails, skinned knees, bikes with streamers on the handle bars.
We gathered in that familiar place that for me is filled with memories, and we connected as though we had never lived hundreds of miles apart for 17 years. I snapped a quick photo on my cell phone just to remember this gathering.
I had made this pilgrimage to my home in Illinois, along with my daughter, and we gathered with many, many other people to share our sympathy with the family who lost a wife, daughter, mother, and friend. (See my last post.) Following that visitation we shared a meal, hence the “stuff” behind this post.
That is what I have been thinking of ever since. More precisely I’ve thought a lot of just gathering, being together.
Because when we gather we gain strength from one another. We see into each other’s eyes and we breathe in the same space. We share in the energy that is present. We take courage from each other. Sometimes we even take on the fears of those around us. Or the sadness. The laughter can be just as contagious as the tears.
Then, these places where we have gathered become kind of sacred to us. The connection of place to precious times binds us together in our hearts, in our memory. This favorite restaurant, for me, is one of those.
There is a scene in the musical Les Miserables when a young man is mourning the tragic loss of his friends in a battle. He sings of the Empty Chairs and Empty Tables, those places where once they all sat together as friends, planning their futures, planning how they would fight in the revolution, singing and drinking, not knowing what fate awaited them.
I’m not one of those revolutionaries. Far from it. Yet the grief he speaks of in that scene, the unspeakable loss, is a sorrow that, as I write this, I know others are walking through.
From my childhood home came news in the last couple of days of a terrible auto accident and the untimely death of a mother and daughter I have known for a very long time. And I’ll be honest with you; though I have not had contact with this family for a few years, the shock and sadness have really knocked me down. It’s hard to think of anything else.
There will now be a huge gap in the lives of those left behind. Something as simple as an empty coat hook, or a task not done, or who knows what….simple little things will trigger the grief and suffering all over again. And my heart goes out to all. To all who are feeling the loss of those they loved so dearly.
Seeing how this tragedy was really keeping me from doing much, I knew I needed to act.
I took time to meet with a friend here locally who is a quilter, and she is teaching me how to do paper piecing. It was great to have my hands on something, doing a creative task. I am a firm believer that art saves; doing something creative gets us in touch with a vital part of who we are and rescues us in some way.
Later I called my other dear friend from my hometown. We talked for a long time about life. There were tears, and laughter, and comparing notes about being grandmothers now, and just the sound of her voice lifted me like you can not imagine.
The two of us would have gone bike riding with this friend who died. Each of us would have held her daughter when she was a baby. We shared this common bond of growing up in the same place, and those memories today became a soothing balm for our hurting hearts.
We all went to the same school, and I’m pretty sure we may have used this same reader in first grade (or one similar) to learn to read.
It’s the conversation with my friend tonight that remind me of those carefree times of childhood, those bike rides, the hair done in two pony tails, and slumber parties and then boys and high school. Gone so fast. But the memories became more of that healing.
How do I end this post?
Not with sadness, but with joy.
Joy that I knew this woman and her family, her daughter, her husband (who remains in the hospital), and another daughter who lives with her own family now.
Joy for the friendships that were,
the friendships that are,
and the friendships that are to come.