Much has changed in a year.
Last night I met a friend for dinner at a pie shop that I hadn't been to since last November. That pie shop, though by no means extraordinary in and of itself, had been the beginning of an important relationship in my life. I expected to feel nostalgic or wistful upon visiting it again, but none of those emotions were stirred. The pie shop was unchanged: a small space with a glass case full of lattice-covered and crusty pies, painted white stools, and a large sheet of butcher paper taped against the wall with names of featured pies scrawled in mediocre handwriting.
In the landscape of my mind, certain landmarks feel particularly heavy, shackled to memories and feelings that are either polished or eroded by time, though for a tumbling rock, that is pretty much the same thing. In loss, those memories can become little thorns, pricking and pinching, splinter-like, embedded in the dermis of your heart. After days of rubbing salt and grease and vinegar and glue and every other home remedy into a seemingly hopeless wound, it is a sheer relief, by God-given grace, when you notice one day, in a brief and surprising glance, that the splinter is no longer there. We never expect the absence of pain, and we're surprised--and delighted--when we finally notice its passing.
A year ago, my best friend was in Africa, perched on a rooftop in Mombasa, talking to me with what scrappy cell service she could find. We were both in new places, constantly searching through foreign landscapes, finding people who we thought could see--like truly see--some part of our naked souls without turning away in disgust.
I wrote to her, "Here's the secret that the truest evangelicals have always known and preached: we are all broken souls who want to be loved and understood and the thing that stops us from letting ourselves be loved and understood is that we believe we're more broken and fucked up than anyone else we know. We are selfish and self-centered and we lionize our own misery as a result. Because we identify most deeply with our broken selves, we fear that others will judge, then consequently reject us because of our transparencies. Instead of letting the weight of brokenness be a fear, the evangelical emblazons his chest with the emblem of brokenness, which, as I've increasingly discovered, is an invitation for empathy as an offering call is for alms. The most effective way of doing this is to be unashamedly forthright and jokingly self-deprecating."
We wrote back and forth to each other in heartfelt confessions, because the physical distance between us, and her itinerant lifestyle at the time, didn't afford us the luxury of physical presence, or even constant phone contact.
In Welezo, my best friend volunteered at an old people's home run by four Catholic nuns who were sisters. She worked in the kitchen with coconuts, clipped fingernails, embroidered names onto clothes. Before that, at the Indian ocean, entranced by glowing plankton; before that, Dar es Salaam, at a hookah bar, or in her kitchen, cooking a chickpea stew.
By the shore, at dusk, I was slurping Oysters, blinded by the descending sun. In New Zealand, I sat on a grassy knoll, beneath a double rainbow, half-listening to electronic dance music I did not understand. After that, Brazil Ranch, with swaggering cows above a hazy blue ocean, a delightfully empty field of dried straw and green grass; after that, a morning in Mendocino with smoke and the squawk of seals.
Much has changed in a year; my heart has swelled and opened and mourned and released. I am a different person than I was then, and I suppose that it is my sentient breath that allows that to be. No fear of difference, no fear of change, no fear of seasons. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return...For who can bring them to see what will happen after them?