Rain was forecast the day our "goodbye Aricos" gathering was scheduled - a scenario unheard of in sunny Ventura, land of no-raindates-needed. The two beloved neighbors hosting the shindig on the tight, well-kempt cul-de-sac we called home decided to postpone a day. The adjustment conflicted with a few schedules, but the nearest and dearest came along to the little cookout, sweet hand-made sign our backdrop, where we ate and chatted about the farm we'd be moving to in King George, Virginia - the rural town we'd be adopting in middle January, the 100-year old house we'd be renovating.
As the babies began to fuss and the paper plates were being gathered up, several pulled up to offer quick hugs and goodbyes. T was one. "I just stole away for a minute," she said, toddler on her hip, a house-full of relatives back home with her husband and other kids. "But I came because I wanted to tell you this: you changed my life."
If surprise were a ball flying at me through the air, I'd have dropped it. I almost couldn't register the words that quietly filled the air between us. I'd changed her life? What? For such words are reserved for hospital bedsides or weepy funeral parlors. Or they're penned out, perhaps, in cards mailed out to mentor, referring to events and era safely past. But stated directly in bustling setting like this? "I'll miss you" or "I'll never forget you" or even "I love you" would make sense, but such words as these I could never have have expected.
Odd too because of who T is. We'd spent time together in my final California year - met together a handful of times to pray, walked and chatted once or twice along the beach. And I admired her enormously.... A woman of uncharted depth and unusual grace. A woman with an uncommon and compelling spiritual life, in whom the Holy Spirit shines out starkly, close enough to the surface you can almost grasp him. It was this spiritual shining, in fact, that had first intrigued and most compelled me about her. A woman more like the Sarah Smith of Golders Green that C. S. Lewis describes in his imagined journey through heaven than most anyone I've met. Not an ordinary kind of woman. T had moved and enriched me, to be sure, in the months we'd known each other, but nothing about our interactions made me feel that my presence in her life might be in any way life-changing.
So they baffled me, her spoken "You changed my life." All the more in that she'd make a point of coming to deliver the words personally - with brevity and no fanfare. And yet she did. They were like a benediction spoken over me, so that in that moment I was seen, known, uniquely affirmed by another. A person could live her whole life and not receive a gift like this. I carry it with me always.
And this spring It's moving time again; another chapter closes for us. It dawns on me quietly one day that this scene is a repeatable one; this gift is one for sharing, not hoarding. This time I get to be the bestower.
As I drive to meet R for coffee I think on this. Among the dear friends Virginia has brought me, it's this one who has awakened in me the a latent pursuit of wonder and sense of dwelling with transcendence. It's her love for image and the way she sits with beautiful words that have spoken to my deepest heart. I realize, when I browse the poetry books she's leant me (she reads it regularly herself and aloud, daily, to her kids) that it's been nearly two decade since I dwelt with poems this way - dwelt with slow, beautiful, gradually-dawning truth. But poems begin again come to sit with me like old friends... because of R. And a piece of myself is returned to me, like a reunion with a part of my soul that the years had invisibly packed up. How do you even get your arms around a gift like this?
I should tell her, I think to myself.. Not scrawled in my messy hand in a folded card (more subtle and comfortable; more my style). I should speak the words out - pay forward the gift I received from T. I should speak the words out, bless the space between us. (Irony that R. was the one who introduced me to the book, and thus the concept, of To Bless the Space Between Us.)
"You changed my life," I tell her, our backs pressed against the coffee shop door as raindrops fall in the dark sky. "You returned a piece of myself to me I didn't know I'd lost, just by your quiet living out of your bright, wonder-filled, poem-filled life." I see the surprise and the quiet wonder spread out across her face.
"That's one of the nicest things anyone's ever said to me," she said. And I knew just what she meant.