35: Stepped in a hole

heartholeNo new ground broken here, at least in broad themes. It was important to me, though.

This is about losing. Losing someone, about the hole they leave behind, the hole that never completely fills. We learn to accept the hole, but it remains. And it should. That’s what reminds us how valuable our loves are.

I’ve come to accept endings, but I don’t understand them. Is it that we must experience endings so that we value every moment that we have during living? If so, that suggests there is a purpose in all this, something I find comforting, even as I profess no knowledge about something for which I was once so certain.

Maybe the point is to find meaning in the absence of a point. If so, I’m finding that.

Here’s the text of the podcast:

I stepped in a hole this week.

That’s not quite accurate. A hole was put in front of me on Thursday morning and there was no way to step around it or backtrack. To move forward I had to step into the hole. There will be no stepping out of it, ever, because that hole will always be there.

A friend died last week, probably late Tuesday night. Most of us learned of it Thursday morning. He was young, 33, a husband and father. His death was sudden, unanticipated and unnatural. He is gone. No one I know saw this coming. The hole we stepped in was the one in our hearts, the space that was reserved for him.

I’m old enough to have known death a few times. It started with the grandmother few people liked. I was 8, then, and as difficult as she was, she had become as much a part of my life as as breathing. So at her funeral service I cried my eyes out. Then there were two dogs, a grandfather, our cat, our friend Tex, the nice grandmother, another dog, two friends named Roger, two more dogs, my mother, another dog and my father. There were others in there, too.

Each time one of them goes I realize how big a piece of me they had, and they stay there. While they live there is hope in possibilities. When they leave we are consumed with the lost opportunities. This is a trivial example, but it makes my point. My mother liked the computer game Spider Solitaire. She said there was a secret to it. I wanted to find that secret myself. A few days after she died I was playing it and realized I could never again think to ask her about the secret. It made me realize that there were volumes of experiences and truths my mother could have revealed that now remain secrets. They probably affect my life because they affected hers.

But now they remain some part of that hole. The people in our lives are there constantly to fill holes in our lives, as minor as a secret in a computer game to as significant as the pillow talk at day’s end. When they go don’t think I ever understand it. I don’t know why things have to begin and end, particularly our lives. At times in my life I’ve taken comfort in the idea most of us embraced at least for some stretch of our lives, that nothing ever really does die. I still have hope for that, but I don’t know.

None of us do, no matter how much we profess that we do. What we do know is we don’t do this life alone, we’re better for that, but when someone goes the hole is real. It gets smaller as time goes on because we fill it with new things, but it never goes away. And that’s a good thing. I can’t imagine how empty my life would be if I never experienced loss, as if nothing ever mattered so much that it hurt when it left.

A little over a week ago my brother and I went to the grave of our parents. We went with our wives. Something about being around that memorial to the couple that worked hard to stay together and raise us gave us comfort, and it eventually led us to laughter. We were irreverent, nothing too terrible, so don’t let your mind wander far. There are photos to prove it, photos that will not be shared on social media because that isn’t the right context for those memories. They probably wouldn’t be funny to anyone else because you had to be there, and “there” is actually over 62 years of living for my brother and 54 for me. That’s decades of having our parents take up residence in our hearts and then leaving the hole behind.

It’s good that the hole remains. It’s good that tears appear when I think of what my mother did to be relevant in a home of the boys. It’s good to get emotional when I think of what my dad did to stand by my mom during her toughest years. We never completely get over our losses, because we had a lot to lose. And we were blessed for that, for having so much. The hole that lingers reminds us of the love we shared.

The friend we lost this week is among those in a community of people on whom I’ve drawn strength particularly in the last year or more as we made major, major changes in how we address faith. We gathered last night to remember our friend, and to lean on each other. His absence from that gathering was tangible, as real as a hole.

Ever since I learned of his death I’ve been thinking about something I read maybe 16 years ago. It was written by Karin Anderson, a Utah Valley University Professor in the English program, and published in Sunstone Magazine. The entire piece is compelling, but it’s this single paragraph that has stuck with me, especially the ending.

She wrote:

“Whether or not I can ever finally believe that the promise of Christ’s atonement can be fulfilled, I do believe that the principles his name represents are the only possible salvation for the hungry, humiliated, violent, and hopeless inhabitants of this world. And so, though I rarely embody them, I believe in the efficacy of tolerance, peace, charity, patience, and selflessness, even among those with whom we are most familiar, even toward those with whom we most adamantly disagree. And if we and this world vanish tomorrow, if our souls are obliterated with our bodies, if our sun burns away and turns to vile black ice, our love mattered all the more, because that was all we had.”

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