On June 17, I lost my best friend. The cadence of his voice, the singularity of his texts, the attentiveness in the way he listened. The chuckle and the comments, the word smithing. He was, after all, a wordsmith (disguised as a carpenter) who was an avid reader and loved the weight and willingness of words, the want for clarity and the wiggle room of meaning. He was calm and gentle, incredibly respectful and consistent, shouldered all his own burdens and assumed full responsibility for actions. In some ways, his quiet made him hard to know; in others, it was intensely revealing of the man he was. He had a warm and tender sense of concern for others, all others, and he chose to help wherever he could. He possessed the courage to name his own insecurities and frame their sources, challenge their existence. He celebrated his friendships and harbored the strongest of feelings for his children. But just after a series of kind and reassuring texts, he was gone. His absence from my life has been a grief of unanticipated depth and breadth. Sleepless nights have blended with loss of appetite and floods of memories. I had always assumed those would be of the best variety since our conversations and time shared was so much a reflection of the home that exists between friends. Instead, so much of it is torturous, resting as it does with the finality of loss and the sense of “never again”. Still, his ideas, his thinking and words, even his gestures, come alive in unexpected moments, in unlikely places, and somehow bring a measure of sanity to the abyss of this grief.
Loss, bereavement, punctuates lives with a cruelty unparalleled, but it also humbles and reframes lives. What once seemed to matter pales in the face of such loss; what can and should matter somehow re-emerge with a deeper awareness and fuller conviction. The truth of who we are and who we can be is neither hidden nor elusive. Loss reminds us of the frailty of life, the shortness of it and too, the possibilities that still somehow are within grasp for the survivors.
In this Eighteenth Week of Ordinary Time, the readings are a reminder of finding home within the mysteries of human existence. In the first reading, amid the anger and angst of a people crossing the desert, there is the sustenance of quail and manna. It is provided by a loving God in the story, a testimony to commitment and purpose. The second reading urges trust in the teachings of Jesus, to open to the new possibilities that change can bring. There is an emphasis on moving forward from the past, trying something new. The Gospel completes the cycle with the final lines,
“For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world.”
All of these point to the richness of home in relationship. Within all the struggles that humans confront, with the weight of grief and loss, confusion and frustration, it is easy to forget the source of life, to fail to acknowledge that there is so much beyond self. Human lives are entangled in the mysteries of the Universe, the inexplicable gifts of connections and joy and the equally incomprehensible losses. Remembering gives life to what was; remembering gives birth to re-emergence, to becoming who we really are in this new world so marked by loss and change.