Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Choosing Love, Pt. 2
I stood at the top of the hill in the East Tennessee churchyard of my youth, Valentine's Day, and watched the others ascend through the melting snow. God bless and please don't fall, I prayed. They didn't, but one of the pallbearers moaned under his burden at the crest of the hill, and a couple other men rushed in to help. Together, they settled the casket safely into the device stand and, panting, clapped one another on the back.
A preacher read Psalm 23 and Jason's brother "A Cowboy's Prayer." James Watson bear-hugged me at the casket just before I patted it with a kiss and returned to my parents' house, to vacuum. That evening, Mom and I baked the same heart-shaped sugar cookies she had baked for my elementary-school classes.
So I spent Valentine's Day away from Jim, who was snowed into our log cabin in Virginia, and Cade, who was snowed into his dad's house. I recognized love throughout my trip, though: heard it traveling the telephone line; spoken from the mouths of preachers; spilling over my little children, who settled in Mom's lap for story after story. I saw it in my dad's and daughters' shared enjoyment of the snow and in my babies' flat-out ministry to my mother-in-law. I heard it in her laughter and saw it in her tears.
For days, I said to everyone who would listen: "I loved him," and the only responses were "Yes," "I know," and "He loved you, too." My other two boy friends from high school e-mailed condolences. I know you were close, each said. Thinking of you. (The balm of affirmation.)
I bade my own hands and feet to show love in service while I was in East Tennessee; they did their best.
And maybe I've never felt so threadbare as I did, returning Sunday evening to the log cabin in Virginia, but Jim had made the space clean and bright, picked up Cade from his dad's, cooked dinner, and filled the dining-room table with Valentine's presents for the children and me. Later, in bed, I wept into the warm fur of his chest while he stroked my hair and spoke love over me.
"My trip brought it back," I told Cade the next day, "how real this time of your life is. You love certain people deeply, and you'll love them forever." He looked into the pain of my tired eyes and nodded. Later, when I asked him to sit close for a tv show, he didn't hesitate; he slid in my direction and rested his shaggy, fourteen-year-old head against my shoulder.