When road construction slows you down, take the time to visit with friends
A few weeks ago, I came upon a sure sign of summer in Idaho; a line of cars waiting as giant, yellow pavement-eaters digested the south lane of Highway 200, making it ready to repave. Having torn several vehicles apart on Highway 200, I waited with generous thoughts and hosannas for the machine operators, the flaggers, the driver of the pilot car and the entire Idaho Department of Transportation.
In the mirror, I saw a friend, so I shut the truck off and walked back to her car. We talked about our grand view of Oden Bay, her upcoming trip to Canada, and the soul-cleansing effect of a few days by the ocean.
While we talked, at least five cars and trucks behind Cherie did beautiful three-point turns and blasted off in the other direction.
I wondered where they thought they were going.
It’s not like they could go back a block, turn left, find another street and follow it to town. The shortest, most reckless, drive to Sandpoint in that direction was 15 minutes, and my guess is none of them knew the roads well enough to make it in less than 25, not counting the time they were destined to spend looking at a flagger in front of K-Mart on Highway 95. Yet, they took off in a batch, as if inspired by one another, and there was something so ridiculous about it that we looked at each other and burst out laughing. It was a fine moment to spend with a friend.
Later that morning, after I got to town, I went to a memorial service for a friend of mine named Andy in his brother’s back yard. We sat in sunshine as Chris read a short biography of Andy and gave as fine a eulogy as a brother could give. Ladies cried, flickers and chickadees sang in the trees, and a Lutheran minister read the 23rd Psalm and preached on the famous “a time for” poem from Ecclesiastes.
Afterward, we sat in shade and ate finger food and spoke of Andy’s death and the death of others close to us. We didn’t speak of our own, of course, except in jest and after the pall had risen far enough off Chris’s shoulders that we knew it was safe to ask him to laugh with us.
Andy was 45 when he died. One week he was stocking shelves at IGA. The next week, he was in the hospital. The next week, he was gone; off into that other phase of life; burst through the opaque, undulating, elastic curtain we call Death.
Andy is not in bad company. His parents preceded him, and we have lost other friends of late. Kathy, Dan, Mick, Kate, Elizabeth, and others whose names I don’t know. Even old Radar, darn his furry hide, has gone on without us.
The rest of us are left behind with a funny taste in our mouth; of dust and ashes and a bit of nagging nostalgia. For a while, we expect to turn around and see our friends right behind us, grinning like it was just a big joke; thinking we will all have a big laugh and go home or back to work; back to our real life, relieved and grateful.
We know down deep, though, that Andy isn’t hiding in the birch trees in Chris’s back yard. Mick isn’t down in the desert. Kate isn’t just on vacation. Kathy isn’t off climbing a mountain somewhere. We can reasonably expect they won’t be coming back. For us, they are irretrievable, except in memory and dreams, and we are left with a feeling that might be best expressed as “Well, damn.”
“Well, damn … we were just getting to know each other.”
“Well, damn … we were just beginning to get along.”
“Well, damn … they were just getting their life together.”
“Well, damn … I liked them so much. How will I live without them?”
We will live without them. The holes left in our lives and hearts will heal, but as Chris so poignantly pointed out, never quite completely. We will wonder if we did enough with them, or enough for them. We will wonder what to do with the leftover creases in our relationships, the promise to ourselves to apologize next time we see them, or our vow to never tell them we are sorry. We will think of them and say, “Well, damn.”
An old saying is that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. If that is true, it is cemented with regrets. Regrets are what keep the holes in our hearts open, bleeding and painful; rather than healing and forming a niche in which to keep our best memories of those who leave before us; friends and lovers gone out of our lives, even though maybe not as far as Radar and Andy.
The Lutheran pastor in Chris’s back yard spoke of timeliness. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die …”
There is also a time to get out of your car and walk back a few feet to visit with a friend. There might even be a time to frantically make a three-point turn and go off in search of a quicker way to town. After all, the image of someone else doing that helped Cherie and I enjoy our morning just that much more.
“For everything there is a season,” … a time for regrets, and a time to cast regrets behind us. That time comes to us when we are able to say, “I’m glad I got to spend some time with them,” instead of “Well, damn.”