As I was working to find ways to get the last few things in the back of my Cherokee so I could head out of town, I found a mix CD I know I must have made but don’t remember doing so entitled, “Durham.” I put it in the small bag of things that was to sit next to me in the car and finished up. I had just reached the Mass Pike in the pouring rain when I remembered the disc and slipped it into the player. A couple of songs in, Cat Stevens sang from deep in my memory:
I listen to the wind
to the wind of my soul
where I’ll end up, well
I think only God really knows . . .
Last night, I went with my friends Betsey and Trisha to walk the labyrinth at the Hanover church. Don, the pastor (and also my dear friend) and Sue, his wife, were there also. Don had built a fire in the heart of the labyrinth and lined the perimeter with lanterns. The rows of stones delineating paths now covered with fallen leaves grew out of conversations some years ago after Betsey and Trisha went to Grace Cathedral in San Francisco and walked the labyrinth there. Among the many meanings carried by the stones, one of the most important for me is they stand as a testimony to faith among friends.
Betsey and I walked at the same time and I became quickly aware of the power of the metaphor that lives in the ancient practice. As we both followed the turns in front of us, we would pass close to each other and then, almost instantly it seemed, be on opposite sides of the circle and then back together again before we both ended up seated in front of the fire. We stayed there a long time, re-membering our friendship with tears and gratitude, sitting among the stones we once thought might never be stacked and straightened.
“This gives me hope,” Betsey said, “because it came true. Most things don’t come true.”
I heard then the same words I listened to as I drove today, sung by one of my favorite theologians, Steve Earle:
just because you’ve been around
and had your poor heart broken
that’s no excuse for lying there
before the last word’s spoken
‘cause some dreams
don’t ever come true
don’t ever come true
aw, but some dreams do
While I was in Hanover, my friend Doug was back at my house packing. He and some others had come over to help in the afternoon and when it came time for me to leave he said he was going to stay and work. That was at five-fifteen. When I called the house at nine, he answered the phone. When I got to the house, I found he had finished everything that needed to go in the Pod so the movers could take it. We loaded the last of it together, cleaned up the driveway, and then went back to his house for well-deserved beers and sleep. I felt him riding along side me as another of my favorite spiritual advisors, James Taylor, sang:
the secret of life is in opening up your heart
it’s ok to feel afraid
don’t let that stand in your way
‘cause everyone knows that love is the only road
and since we’re only here for awhile
might as well show some style
give us a smile . . .
I called my friend Billy to catch him up on my journey and to catch up on his. He talked about pulling an old book off the shelf – Anthony de Mello’s Song of the Bird – and finding an inscription I had written when I gave the book to him about two weeks after we met in 1984. We spent about a half an hour moving seamlessly between past and present finding ourselves close together on the journey, even across the miles. The rain and the Berkshires conspired to drown the signal from my phone, but the Indigo Girls provided the perfect soundtrack:
why do we hurtle ourselves through every inch of time and space
I must say around some corner I can sense a resting place
with every lesson learned a line upon your beautiful face
we’ll amuse ourselves one day with these memories we’ll trace . . .
I found my brother along the road once the storm cleared and we talked across two state lines. It has taken a lot of years and miles for us to learn how to be fellow travelers; that we have learned how is one of the things in my life for which I am most grateful. One of the reasons I called him is to say to him what I have been saying about him to others over the last couple of weeks as I have had occasion to have a few extended conversations with one of my nephews – his son. He has two and both of them live with a sense of confidence an integrity that is undergirded by a sense that they know they are trusted. Miller and Ginger (yes, his wife is named Ginger also) have did a great job raising boys and have done an amazing job incarnating love and grace as trust so that the boys have been able to grow into young men. They don’t treat the guys like kids anymore; they treat them as though they believe in who they are and who they are becoming. What an amazing gift. Guy Clark sang for all of them about the time I hit the Pennsylvania line:
you’ve got to sing like you don’t need the money
love like you’ll never get hurt
you’ve got to dance like nobodys’ watching
it’s gotta come from the heart if you want it to work
All across the five states on my sojourn, I talked to Ginger, updating her on my progress and trying to articulate the thunderstorm of emotions I’ve felt over the last few days in particular. The longer I live, the more I trust that grace means I’m not required to prove myself before God, or anyone else, in order to be loved. If, however, there is some sort of final accounting and I’m asked what I made of my life, I will simply point at Ginger and say, “I was with her.” I won’t have to say anything else. That we have had two decades together in New England and are now moving together into a new chapter is full of great things mostly because we are together. And so my travel day ended appropriately with Billy Joe of Green Day singing one of Ginger’s favorite songs:
so take the photographs and still frames in your mind
hang it on a shelf in good health and good time
tattoos and memories and dead skin on trial
for what it’s worth it was worth it all the while
it’s something unpredictable
but in the end it’s right
I hope you had the time of your life
Betsey’s right: life is full of things that don’t come true. Today, however, I have been carried by those things that are: faith, hope, and love. And Paul is right, too: the greatest of them all is love.
I am not alone, in my going out and my coming in.
Sounds like a heckuva way to leave town man.
Even though we don’t know one another, I have thought of you and your move often in recent days and said a prayer for you and Ginger. I imagine you passed through this way (northern VA) and, as you do, I wish you all the best in your new adventure. This was a beautiful post, as always, and I thank you for taking the time to share. This is the line that blessed me the most:
“The longer I live, the more I trust that grace means I’m not required to prove myself before God, or anyone else, in order to be loved.”
Thank you once again for living your journey out loud. God bless!
Heavenly days, Milton. Such amazing, beautiful words for your leave-taking. Thank you for the blessing.