Annie stood at the kitchen sink, cleaning out baby Calvin’s bottle.
“Are you going to Summer’s grandma’s funeral?” I asked. Summer was a sister-friend to Annie growing up. They were room mates in college and Annie was a bridesmaid at Summer’s wedding.
Annie turned toward me, setting the bottle on the counter top. She slumped her shoulders, her eyes welled up, and she struggled to find the words:
“Mom, do you know how much I hate funerals? I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but they hurt so much. I get physically sick. And then it takes me a week to get over it. I just can’t stop thinking about it, and I cry all the time, and it’s just so hard for me.”
I know Annie pretty well. I’ve known her longer than any human being has known her. I know her tender heart and her sensitivities. She is as kind and loving as any person I have ever met, and she has a sixth sense that makes her pause and ask me if I’m OK when other people think I’m just fine. Sometime’s peoples’ actions appear to be insensitive, when in reality they are the result of ultra-sensitivity. She feels sorrow as deeply as she feels joy.
“I know, Nanners,” I said, shifting over to the counter to give her a hug. “I know it’s so much harder for you than the average person. So much harder than for me. But I also know that there are times when we just plain need to be there.”
The spirit assigned to directing mothers whispered that this was enough, and I did not belabor it. I am no longer the boss of her. She gets to make her own decisions.
I’ve lived a long time now. And in that long time I have discovered that I am a believer in being there. Not that I always am, and not that I always can be. But in general, there are some times and circumstances that have divine light around them and we miss so much when we don’t attend. We miss the chance to receive, and we miss the chance to give.
Being there for a birthday lunch…that’s nice, and thoughtfully kind. That kind of being there is important, mostly because it sends a message, a little reminder that we are important to each other.
But there are other times when being there is a washing of feet; a 40 day fast; a pair of hands over the head of a lifeless child. We minister with our presence. In those moments when the rest of the world is stripped away, when the only thing holding us together is the grace of God; the mere presence of those we love is a type of consecrated oil on a wounded head. Whether it is the physical exchange of energy, or if it is angels speaking to angels, or if it’s only an easing of the mind to know we are not alone, I don’t know. But there is definitely something about someone simply being with us in our deepest grief and our greatest joy that makes it more bearable and more complete.
I’ll not forget being up in Midway, Utah, a distant city and large canyon drive away from our home in Farmington. We were weary with sorrow at the passing of our young nephew, Clayton, after a tragic motorcycle accident. I’ll not forget seeing our Farmington neighbors, Doug Asay, Connie and Dave Bailey, Cindy Gardner and Sue Denham walk in. While they did not personally know Clayton or his parents, they knew we loved him, and they knew the depth of grief in his passing. Even now it makes me weep. My heart feels seared to theirs because of their presence. It is no comment on others who could not be there, I’ve been in situations when I could not be there for people I love, and I pass no judgment. I just know what it is like to feel like you’ve been ministered to, simply by someone showing up.
Yesterday morning I picked Dave up at the airport after a rather unusual trip he had taken.
A couple months ago Dave received a letter from Yale University Track and Field Association, inviting him to attend their annual senior awards banquet at the Yale Club in NYC. Dave participated in football and track at Yale, even lettering in track, but he hasn’t really done that much with the association since graduation, especially since we live thousands of miles away from New Haven, CT. But this event was particularly enticing because Dave’s old friend and fellow Yalie, Peter Diamond, was being honored.
I had first met Peter the night before Dave and I were married. We had travelled to Washington DC to be married in the Mormon Temple there. The night before we were wed, Dave’s parents provided a delightful evening at the Blair Mansion, where nearly 100 people shared a fabulous meal and warm conversation. At some point in the evening a group of young men rose and came to the front, taking me by the arms and whisking me to a small room apart from the party. They blindfolded me and put me in the center of the darkened room, where David was also situated, then they gathered in a circle around us. They began to hum, rather eerily I might add, then broke into song. The title and lyric to the song I cannot disclose. It is old...very old...and particular to their fellowship in an old traditional society of brothers well known at Yale, which name I am also forbidden to disclose. Dave had been tapped with 14 other Juniors when he was at Yale, and his senior year there was spent with a diverse and talented group of “brothers” who shared much that is confidential to them. These brothers, after singing to me, one by one rubbed their knuckles over the top of my head, much like my obnoxious brother did when he was teasing me, so that my pre-wedding night hair was all ratted by the time they were done. I was actually somewhat frightened by all of it, until they removed my blindfold and I saw the genuine smiles and true kindness on their faces as they welcomed me to their circle. One by one they kissed me on the cheek and congratulated David. Dave was the first of that group to be married. They gave us a beautiful clock, an heirloom, which to this day chimes in David’s study in our home.
Peter Diamond was in that circle. We don’t see him, or any of the others from that group very often. After college they all scattered to various positions or graduate studies, or Peace Corps service in far flung places. David left for Italy the week after he graduated, serving for two years there as a missionary. Peter took a position with ABC Sports as a researcher for the Innsbruck Olympics. Peter has been with ABC and now NBC as a producer for every Olympic game since then. He has received 13 Emmy awards and is now the Senior Vice President of Programs at NBC Olympics. He is responsible for programming NBC's coverage of the Olympic Games, and has overseen more Olympic programs than any broadcast network executive in television history. The Yale Track association is wise to have chosen to honor him.
“I think I’d really like to try to go to this,” Dave said, after reading the letter of invitation. The problem was that he had a trial scheduled for Thursday, the banquet was on a Friday, and Saturday our granddaughter Sophie was being baptized.
“Do you think I’m crazy to want to go?” He waited for my response.
Well, sort of…is what I thought. I mean, how was he going to do this? We live 3000 miles away. There just weren’t enough hours between all the things he wanted to attend, and too many miles as well.
But what I said was: “You do what your heart tells you to do.”
So he bought a ticket.
Thursday he had to be there for his trial. He is, after all, the judge. So the ticket he purchased had him leaving Salt Lake City at 12:50 am Friday morning. I dropped him off at the airport at midnight, wishing I had insisted on him taking a pillow in his bag. He arrived in NYC Friday morning, got himself a bowl of Chinese Sesame Noodles at one of his old favorite restaurants in the city, walked around for a while, then showed up at the Yale Club, where he spent a portion of the afternoon nestled among shelves of wonderful old books in the library. He had contacted some of their “brothers” who were in or near New York, and they joined together that evening in the dining hall of that brilliant old building, where tradition and honor and history hover around the beveled glass and thick soft leather and finely polished wood. Peter was genuinely astonished at their presence. Stunned, actually, that David would travel from Utah. I imagine it was a heart swelling kind of night for Dave, being there in that familiar place, with those familiar spirits from days gone by.
Dave sat next to Brian, another of the brothers, who had suffered a profound personal loss eight years ago. His wife, a warm and well respected business woman and the mother of their two young sons, had died in a tragic fire in a Virginia Inn, where she was staying for a recruiting trip for her law firm. I cannot imagine the sorrow. Truly. David had travelled back east for the memorial service.
Dave hadn’t seen Brian since that time. They were able to share meaningful conversation Friday night; clapping appropriately for Peter, and cheering for the track seniors. As the evening drew to a close, Brian leaned over to Dave and looked him in the eye. Quoting some unknown philosopher, he said these words:
“There are friends. And there are friends who show up.”
I know Dave well enough to imagine the man tears welling in his eyes. I imagine them in Brian's eyes as well.
Peter invited Dave to stay in his place in Manhattan before his return flight, but Dave would have had to leave for the airport at 4 am, so he thanked him and said it was no problem to just wait a while at the airport.
“Thanks for being here, Dave. I really cannot believe you came all this way. I’ll never forget it.”
Dave spent the night trying to find a comfortable position in the stiff metal seats at JFK airport. His flight left New York early Saturday morning. I picked him up just in time for him to shower and change into his suit for Sophie’s baptism early Saturday afternoon. He had not laid down since Wednesday night.
Sometimes the thing that matters most is that you just show up.
Three weeks ago I loaded my guitar into my car, heading out to sing at Summer’s grandma’s funeral. When the garage door opened there stood Annie, her little Calvin dressed in his Sunday best. We drove together, quietly, up the road…the long path of love…that led to the place where we could minister.
No words necessary.
We just needed to show up.