Last week I was at Bible Study with my dear friends. We’ve been meeting together since Jack’s death, wrestling with faith and holding each other up in the hard times. We couldn’t meet until 9 pm, which is pretty late for a weeknight. I didn’t plan to stay too long because I wanted to tuck Margaret in bed and possibly watch The Americans with Tim after that.
At 10 o’clock, I stood up and said I had to go. It seemed like a decent stopping point between the sharing and the Bible study.
On my short drive home, I got a text from my friend Allie that said, “I’m sorry. XOXO” I texted back, “I’m fine. Love you.” And I truly thought I was. But in an attempt to be more open, something I’ve been working on, I began to wonder if there was something more. Something Allie had picked up on at our meeting that I hadn’t. So, I added a while later, “Home now. Sometimes I have to leave to protect myself from extra pain. XO.”
Woah. Where did THAT come from?
I truly had planned on leaving at 10. My friends were talking about high school sporting events, and prom, and dating, and cell phone use, but there was nothing new there. It’s what moms talk about. So why did I add that bit about ‘extra pain’ to my text?
Crap! I’m sure it made my friends feel bad, and these friends are some of the very ones who have stood by me every step of the way, embracing and including me when it would be so much easier not to.
Now, my friends would probably beat themselves up, second-guessing the whole conversation, wondering which topics should be off-limits around me, even after all this time. There would be apologies. And awkward conversations. Oh boy.
In my attempt to be transparent, I was making things much worse, and maybe even hurting those closest to me, all because in my response to Allie's concerned text, I had led her to believe that something about the conversation that night was taboo.
I realize now, that in my weird response, I was trying to protect Allie and my closest friends from something much worse: The truth.
The terrible truth is that our gathering that night didn’t hurt worse than any other night. They all hurt. To be best friends with Jennie means to remember that her sweet daughter Alexis was playing in the rain with my kids that terrible day, but mercifully was called inside 5 minutes before the accident. To be friends with Jane is to remember that she was the one who watched Jack while I was at the hospital giving birth to Margaret, and that we fumbled and found our legs as mothers together in those exhausting, innocent early years, sharing family dinners, planning egg hunts, and fretting. So many memories. And to hear about the sons in the group, whether it's their sports schedules or tentative forays into dating, is to miss Jack even more. So, I immediately knew what Allie must be alluding to when she typed, “I’m sorry. XOXO.” I guess I just didn’t want her to know, how it goes way beyond that one conversation. How much it still hurts every day-- how I am still living life on two tracks after all this time. Darn.
Being around people hurts. Yet to try to avoid pain is to avoid people and avoid living and loving, and that is not acceptable to me. Living in community is not perfect, but it’s absolutely worth it.
Friendship requires sensitivity and acknowledgment, for sure. But while shortly after Jack’s death I hoped friends would spare me the details of their children’s lives, I do not want that any longer. I want to be a true friend who knows what’s going on in my friends’ lives and their children’s lives, too. I don’t want our relationships to be one-sided. I can’t NOT know about my beloved nephew’s driver’s license, new truck, or date to the prom, even though it stings mightily to hear it.
I want to share others’ joy and pain with them, as they do for me, and if that means keeping the second track under wraps a lot of the time, then it's worth it.
And we all make mistakes. I know I do! How callous it is for me to complain about something Tim does that bugs me, when Heather’s husband starts chemo this week. Or to forget in the 27 years I’ve lived without my mom, that the pain of mother-loss looms so fresh for Allie at every holiday and family gathering. I'm glad my friends show me grace when I fail them.
I’m grateful for Allie’s text, and in a way I’m even grateful for my messy and muddled response to it. Because it reminds me that in general I am making it through my days in a way that doesn't scream “pain!” and “brokenness!” at first glance any more. In fact, I think my life sometimes manages to whisper "hope" and "joy" and "friendship." So that's something.
And the text also reminds me what a privilege it is to love each other through the messiness: mine, my dear Bible study friends' and yours.