I enjoyed a feast of thanksgiving twice this week. The first was in two rooms full of friends new and old, multiple languages, multiple ages, multiple religious faiths, and families large and small. The second was a more private and personal nourishment and reflection.
It was the second feast I wish to share with you.
The first dish was served by eight year old little Suzy. A note she sent to her first love. She declared her love to Billy and threatened to kill herself and beat him up if he did not love her and walk her to the bus stop every day. Sixteen years later when a young woman married, she repeated her own special vows. She turned and looked at her betrothed and said, “I, Suzy, promise you, Billy, never to kill myself or beat you up.”
The second dish is also a Robert Fulghum story.
George was very old. He was put in a nursing home by family and never had any visitors. Finally he just stopped talking and refused to leave his room. He still took care of himself and cooperated with the staff. But he would not talk or leave his room.
When George stopped coming out Maggie went into his room to sit with him. She talked with him and worked on a quilt she began to make, her first. They passed their time like this. He never responded, but he didn’t seem to mind either. Eventually, she moved all of her sewing things into his room. After a while Maggie finished her quilt. Everyone remarked it was the most beautiful quilt they had ever seen. The nursing home put the quilt on display at the entrance. Days after Maggie finished the quilt George passed away. When the staff began to collect his belongings they found an envelope in his night stand. On the envelope was written “To Be Opened When I Die.” Inside the envelope was a short note.
“Tell Maggie I Love her.”
Maggie loved George too. She had made that beautiful quilt for George. That is why George was buried, wrapped in Maggie’s quilt.
I have always liked Fulghum. I think he is a good way to start any feast. But the rest of these stories are personal. The first starts with my BFF.
Cocoa was a standard size dachshund. She was a year older than me. When my parents bought her they said she was the family dog. She had other ideas. She was my dog and I was her person. Well sort of, she really looked after me as if I were her puppy. We grew up together. In elementary school we were inseparable. But as I got into high school there was band, Spanish Club, reports, thesis, exams, jobs, and of course Martha. Even though Cocoa and I did not spend the time together we had in years past, we still had that same connection and were always there for each other.
One Saturday night I came home from work exhausted about three in the morning. Saturday was always a long night. After the restaurant would close, Philip and I would take everything out of the restaurant. We put chairs, tables, and everything in the parking lot. Then we would shampoo the carpets, let them dry, then put everything back. This Saturday night I came home and started to go into the back door. I paused and looked to the gate to the backyard. I knew Cocoa would be asleep on the other side curled up against the gate. She liked the yard better than being in the house. I thought about going to say good night to Cocoa, but I was tired, I could spend time with her in the morning. I started into the house, stopped, and went back to see Cocoa. It would only take a few moments. I patted her on the head, rubbed her neck and said good night to her. She looked up at me and licked my hand. We stood like that for a few moments before I went to bed. In the morning my mother woke me to tell me Cocoa had died in the night. I got up and took care of Cocoa the best I could, just as she would have done for me.
The years passed, but occasionally, when leaving friends to head home, I would have that same feeling I had with Cocoa. At first I ignored it, but I learned to pay attention to that feeling as I got older. Not once have I ever regretted turning around to go back and tell someone how important they are to me. Sometimes they just needed to hear it, sometimes it really was the last time I would see them. I never knew which, I still don’t. But I never fight that feeling because those few moments are always the most important moments of my life.
Friday morning I was texting with my Sister, Janette. She reminded me I did that with Graeme the last time I visited them. (Jeanette and Graeme, wife and husband, are my family of choice, not of blood). They were standing by the house and I was headed to my truck to drive back to Kansas. I stopped, turned around, and walked back to them. I gave Graeme a big hug, told him he was my brother just as much as Jason and Jeff (my two brothers by blood), and told him I loved him as my brother just as I loved them. Then I was gone. That was the last time I will ever see Graeme. Sis wanted to know if I knew I would never see Graeme again. She asked because she said she had never seen me walk back to someone like that before. No Sis, I did not know I would never see him again. But I did know it was important that I tell him and show him how important he was to me. It was something my BFF taught me (thank you Cocoa).
For over thirty years, I always go back. And every time when I look back at those moments, sometimes years later, I have been glad I did every time.
After Sis and I finished talking I was back on the road for my third day of Thanksgiving. While I was headed south on highway 15 I was thinking about our conversation and all those I had had the opportunity to say good bye too. I didn’t know I was saying good bye at the time, and not everyone I do that with dies. One day, when I have those feelings it will be because it is the last time I will see that person, not because they are going to die, but because I am, and that is okay too. I have a lot of people I am looking forward to seeing again and Graeme is just one of them. But each time it is an important moment for me and for them. Like I said I never fight that feeling, I always go with it. But I began to wonder “would I ever NOT follow that feeling?” Images of the people I know flashed through my mind. Each time I thought “No, I would go back and tell that person.” It was a long list, but it was a long drive too. Then one particular image came to mind. “Would I go back to that person as well?” I did not have an answer for myself. It seems like a simple question, right? I mean who would NOT go back to tell someone how important they are to you. I tell people how important they are even when I don’t have that feeling. Just last week I posted on a friend’s wall how important his friendship is to me, he’s mad at me this week but that’s okay. He is a good man and his anger does not change my opinion of him.
So anyway, back to this one person. The more I thought about it the more I realized I did know the answer to my question. I just did not like my answer. I knew that I would not go back to tell that one person how important they are to me. Wrong answer, right? That’s what you are thinking, right? There are people who know how you feel about them without you saying anything. But, that’s not what I’m talking about. (And my opinion is, those people who know – it is even MORE important for you to tell.)
We like to believe help enough people, smile enough, go to the right church, vote for the right politician, encourage enough people – tell enough people they are important to you, and the whole world will get better. Love conquers all. Right? No. Wrong.
I am not trying to tell you you should not believe. Like Robert Duvall once said in a movie “Just because something is not true doesn’t mean you can’t believe in it. Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things that a man needs to believe in most.”
You do need to believe in some things, especially some things that you cannot prove. But it is also okay if other people do not believe in the same things. Life would be awful boring if everyone believed all the same things.
So yes, there is one person that if I ever have those feelings when I am walking away, I will not turn back. Even if I knew it was the last time I’d ever see that person, I would keep walking. I do believe that every person who crosses your path is there for a reason. But that does not mean you are supposed to know the reason.
So I’ll keep my mouth shut (just this once), and continue on my homeward path. I won’t look back either. My tears I will keep with my words, silently to myself. You see, sometimes the hardest thing to do for people who are so important to you is nothing at all. And sometimes that is the only thing they want from you.