On Possibility and Grief

I was blessed by a brief visit with a dear friend the other day. We knew each other for only a short time before she moved away. I like to call her “the best friend I almost had.” A few months ago, she moved to Canada to take a university job. She and her husband bought three acres of land and a farm and barn for $160k. She’s a long-distance runner, an intellectual, an academic, a musician. She recycles everything. She will install passive solar in the house when they build it. She votes with her heart. Her skin glows. (Yes, she is vegan.) Right now, she and We’ll-Call-Him-Thomas live in a Tiny House on the land, while they pore over plans for the fully sustainable house they will build. Every night she steps out her front door to see the Milky Way.

When she talks of her new life in Canada, she said she feels like she’s hit the lottery. She’s 31 and her life is full of possibility. One might almost feel envy, but we spiritually advanced 50-somethings instead are happy that things are working out for at least someone these days. Joy is far more appropriate. She is our Northern Light.  

While we were catching up, I heard my phone ring across the restaurant, where I had left it after our gig. My husband answered it because he recognized the name of the caller. I looked up briefly, but I could see that he had things in hand. I went back to listening to stories of composting toilets, the most beautiful place on earth, and three days a week absorbed in research.

The evening passed; we said our goodbyes. As we parted, we mused on planning a visit. My husband and I wondered if we could get work visas so that we could see the Milky Way every night, too.

An hour later, as we pulled into our driveway, he told me about the call. It had been a family friend, calling to tell us my best friend’s mom had died. It was expected. Earlier that morning, my best friend had held her cell phone to her Mom’s ear while I told her I loved her and that I was thankful for what she had been in my life. She had been a very vivacious 80, but her last two years were a painful cancerous decline.

Fact: She had been an important influence in many people’s lives. Quirky, loving, wild and totally disorganized, awake, passionate: a character, a heart of gold, she had demonstrated how to age with heart, with love, and with balls. There’s more. I want to paint her for you, but I don’t have a fine enough brush this morning. She loved frogs and gnomes and, in her heyday, left-wing politics. She lived in celebratory clutter, surrounded by objects that hugged her like the loved ones they came from. She was the Omni Gnome, all seven dwarves in one dervish package.

The next day, I received a text message from another new friend, a man of the cloth. I shall call him Reverend Question Mark. He is 70, retired, and searching. He has been in a dark philosophical hole of late, and I somehow fell into it. “What, I ask, must I be doing with what is most likely the last short decade of my life?” he wrote.  “Write? Build? Befriend? … If you figure it out, let me know.”

Good man, you are asking ME?

What could I possibly know, with 20 years less wisdom than Reverend Question Mark? He, who has devoted his entire life to spiritual exploration and guidance. He, who, in a long pastoral career, has counseled countless people through the most beautiful and miserable moments of their lives. He has changed thousands of lives already. What is his next step? I mean… given all that… does he even need one?

And what can we possibly know with 20 more years of wisdom than our Northern Light?

What can we possibly know, having loved and been loved by Omni Gnomes?

What do we possibly offer to the Question Marks in our lives?

What sort of punctuation can we use in response? Exclamation points are simply overused, and personally I find no well-structured, period-capped sentence that works, either. To give one is folly.

If pressed, the best we might offer is a comma. It’s not over yet, right?  

However, after sleeping on it, I have an idea. Given the state of my inner gnome (I’m still stuck at Dopey), and because I cannot see the Milky Way from where I sit, the answer to the giant question mark in the sky is startlingly clear. The best we can offer to life’s questions amid the incessant battering of grief upon possibility is simple:  Another question mark. Followed by a dot-dot-dot.