I had the occasion to spend much of a beautiful spring day with a beautiful older woman, a member of the congregation I serve. (I'm trying to get out of the habit of saying "my congregation," though that feels natural to me. I think I understand why it rubs some folks I deeply respect the wrong way.) A. and I met at her house, a place redolent with memories of about 87 years of joyful living. I almost gasped when I saw her sofa, a Victorian concoction that was the ghostly image of one my mother had many years ago. I also was struck by A.'s perfume. It is Estee, a scent a beloved aunt of mine practically bathed in all through my youth. Driving A. to lunch was like being in the backseat of the enormous Cadillac my aunt used to drive (with one foot on the accelerator and one on the gas, forever mixing the perfume's scent with the vague odor of burning rubber).
A., like most people her age, has experienced her share of losses. Though her children are living (and nearby, and they are attentive and kind people, too), her husband has died, as well as just about all of her peers. Not too long ago she lost her lifelong best friend, a woman she met when they were both the wives of servicemen abroad in 1943. She feels the loss keenly. A spring is missing from her step.
Over delicious soup and sandwiches we talked about her family, the church, my family, and then the talk turned to her friend. Her hands trembled and her eyes filled. She misses her dear friend so much.
A few days ago I heard Philip Roth being interviewed on the radio. He talked about how we have a mental template for living and dying, but an incomplete one. We expect our parents to die before we do; we expect our children to live after us. But we don't remember to try to imagine when our friends will die. It's a shock that changes us forever, no matter how old we are. We don't expect it. We can't imagine it. It brings our own mortality home in a way that makes us squirm.
[Beloved is going through this right now. Someone she loves dearly, a colleague and friend, has been diagnosed with a virulent, aggressive form of cancer. She is shaken to the core.]
As I dropped her off at her house, A. turned to me and said, "You are just the pastor our church needs. I'm so glad you're here." What a blessing she is to me. What a blessing she has been to everyone whose life she has touched.