past tense

About four years ago, on a summer afternoon, I answered the phone to talk to one of my best friends. He told me that, due to a particular choice he’d made and the sacrifices that came with his decision, the conversation we were having would be the last time we would speak to one another in this life. We told each other how much we cared for one another, promised our prayers to one another, and said goodbye. The real kind of goodbye. The kind that ends things. The once and for all kind of goodbye.

Unless you have been through that sort of thing – and there aren’t many people who have- there isn’t really a language that has words to describe some of the things you feel when experiencing that kind of loss. It is a very particular kind of loss- the person you lost is very much alive, doing things, saying things, thinking and feeling things- but he or she is completely separate from you . You are forced to live completely unconnected with someone, knowing that person is experiencing life, but having to face the fact that you can no longer be a part of that experience.

There have been many times over these years when I have wanted to tell John about a joke I heard, a movie I saw, or a book I read. I have wanted to sing with him again- or to open my door to find him  standing there, smiling the way you do when you are too happy to keep it to yourself.  I have wanted to tell him about finishing college, and grad school, and living out of state, and looking for a job. I have wanted to tell him about everything.

But something changed recently. I started talking about John in a new way. I started saying things like “He used to love pistachio pudding” or “He would cook dinner for me and my roommates, and he would bless the food for us, and we would sit around the table and eat together, like a little family.”

I seem to have finally put John, our friendship, and all the days we spent together in the past.

Of course, that is where they have been since the moment they were lived. But to understand they are there. To begin to speak, to act, to live as though those things have happened and are finished happening, is another sentiment entirely from a literal understanding of the passage of time.

In a way, it makes me sad to realize this has changed in me. But I am thankful. I am beginning to feel, to understand that I have the strength to move forward. That I am closer to enjoying more fully the changing seasons of my life. That I can appreciate the beauty of the past without remaining trapped there.

John taught me volumes when I knew him. And his absence continues to open doors to growth and understanding.

Even now, as these words appear in front of my own eyes, I am considering what life would be like if I could place the circumstances of my life- difficult and beautiful alike- firmly in the past. What if I could learn from them and remember them- but not be limited by them to think that something worse (or nothing better) will come along?

Holding on to something tightly, gripping it with all your fingers, as if your life depended on it, creates tension. Is it possible that letting go could relieve some of the tension and weight in my heart?

I have to confess, I am terrified of living in the moment, and not sure I know quite how to do it. But I am starting to believe I can do it. And I know I’m ready to learn.


To my friend, John: Thank you for everything. You were one of the brightest lights I ever saw. You are- at this moment- lighting the way for others. And I will never let the memory of that light- of you and your childlike soul- fade from my heart.


2 thoughts on “past tense

  1. Tear jerker is right. I can only imagine the loss you felt. The closest I could possibly come to that feeling is loosing my mother. I mean, death is a far different situation, but I too have had to come to grips with some of the very things you are saying. Knowing that in all my life I will never see her, or speak to her again. Knowing that the way things once were, the life we had together, is completely in the past. I still have days where something exciting and new, or even tragic and sad happen, and for an instant I have the impulse to call her and tell her all about it. I used to feel like moving on without, and going about my life as if it is now normal in her absence, would somehow hurt her, or make me a terrible person.

    But I realized, that she, and I am sure John as well, would want nothing more for us to continue living our lives to the fullest every day. You lost someone, a relationship, a friendship, you will never forget. But to allow it to have its reigns pulled tight on you will only hurt you. Be done letting it hold you back. Allow it to force you to grow. You have experienced, and survived, something very few people in this world ever will. And you, my friend, are 100 times the stronger than them for it.

    Maya Angelou once said “I can be changed by what happens to me. I refuse to be reduced by it”. That has always stuck with me when I think about the person I have become in my mother’s death. Just something to ponder on.

    Sorry talking about my mother is never as eloquent as I want it to be… haha.


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