Lunch was still clinging to the corners of our mouths when we said goodbye with a long hug, the kind you give to an old friend you haven’t seen in years.
We only had two hours together in this public garden somewhere between the two cities where we live. We didn’t have time to take pictures in front of the trumpet trees or stop to watch bees disappearing into penstemon flowers. The space between us was more important.
The first time my friend and I met, we were 18 and 19, sitting in folding desk chairs around an Italian language classroom. We didn’t know the next year we would be sharing an apartment on via Bellombra, hungry to find a self we had lost, or had never really known.
As I take the drive home, a gust of wind shakes a beech tree, loosing a handful of green leaves over the highway. I love this solitude, where all I can do is listen to music and daydream. Just me and an 18-wheeler. We travel together until he slows down and arcs away.
It was too short. How could I have made it last longer? My mind wants to press on the wound of leaving my friend.
If you try to hold onto something, says a Buddhist proverb, you lose it.
What does it feel like to let go? The time with my friend is over. There is no bringing it back. It was. It was. It was so sweet.
When I stop resuscitating what has already collapsed, I see the sweetness of her face, the stories we told, the long thread that ties us together.
Thirty years after we spent that year in Italy, I went back. It was all still there — the church steps where we learned not to sit alone writing postcards, the cafe’ where I could only point because I was embarrassed to speak, the dusty square I’d walk through on the way home from class. It was all a beautiful graveyard.
Maybe places come to life through us. It’s the glow inside our souls that lights the world. In our searching, our longing, our loving and our fearing, we give meaning to everything there is.
This highway is soaked with my friend’s eyes, her now-white hair bubbling around her face.
This highway is imbued with the light of home, where my children are making their lunches, and where my husband, after finishing last tasks at the hospital, will soon be driving toward.
This highway is steeped with my unfinished dreams, the metaphor of a life.
As I get closer to the city, the freeway gets wider. More and more cars join, and instead of how similar, I notice how different we are. How I have to fight for space.
Does anything have meaning if not given by a human soul? A painting is simply a collection of brush strokes on cloth, a fable is a handful of letters sprinkled on paper, a symphony a jumble of pitches floating through air. It’s only when it is received by another that it becomes beautiful or wrenching, sorrowful or ecstatic — precious and alive.
The names of the places start to look familiar and, at the exit with the man selling roses, I turn off. As I get closer to home, the roads get smaller and smaller. I see the stone church where my son went to preschool, the playground where my kids used to play.
As I turn onto my street, the route gets sweeter, until I see our house. A cloud hangs around it, preventing me from feeling the goodness I thought was inside.
Around this pink farmhouse with its arbor vines and daisies spilling over the fence, a fog hangs. Visible only to me, its molecules contain all the things I was supposed to do, all the people I thought I’d be. Home seems to say, this is your final resting spot. Are you done, are you perfect, are you happy?
When you’re roaming the world, over oceans or highways, you live the unfolding, changeful way of the universe where nothing is ever over, where answers are never final, and there is always another road to take. When you know you haven’t arrived, your life is a gift that is always being unwrapped.
As you pull into the driveway, you see a little girl running away from the house.
It’s your daughter. She has something in her hands. Maybe a popsicle or a puppet she’s made.
You stop before pulling into the driveway to watch her. She looks back toward the car as if there were something she ought to do. When she looks back again, you don’t wave, because you want her to keep running. You want her to be free.