I remember my last night in New York. The Husband, then Fiancé, and I went to church with a group of friends then hit our favorite Mexican restaurant after. I told everyone goodbye, hugging each in turn and feeling the weight of their absence, their presence diminishing in the night. I could feel my life there slipping away. TH and I went up to his rooftop, where he had proposed, and beheld the lights of the Empire State Building one final time as residents. The thought struck me: that I was taking my favorite part of the city with me. It was hugely comforting, and I still hurt.
The next morning I woke up sick. Maybe it was the dining out we’d been doing constantly since packing up the kitchen days before; maybe it was a physical reaction to all the goodbyes. Probably both. Whatever the cause, I lay in bed, my plans to run the East River path one last time scrapped as I willed my stomach to settle before our flight that afternoon. By the time our plane rose above Queens, I was better…but not. Goodbyes feel both final and endless, the subtractions and additions held in them unfurling for weeks and months and years, a pang here and a gut-punch there, memories carried into new worlds. I’m still not finished saying goodbye to the city that gave me so much.
And as I consider saying goodbye to the city we left New York for, to the home we’ve made here in Atlanta, I feel the pangs and gut-punches again before they’ve even happened: the last dinners we’ll have with friends; the final Christmas before our plane rises; the final time we’ll cross the threshold of this house in which we started a family, this place we brought the boys home to as newborns; the final time before takeoff that I’ll scrunch The Niece’s red curls in my hand or take the wine and bread on Sunday. Every day now has tears mixed with anticipation, and I can’t help but think this is real life: this fullness of emotion that overwhelms but reminds, that reveals in a way the usual dailiness never could what each person and place means. It hurts while it comforts.
There’s been a theme in my life, of life itself showing up in all the moments I didn’t choose: the Chronicles of I Didn’t Sign Up for This, the goodbyes to the idea of what was supposed to be and the slow embrace of what is. You’d think grace might find a new technique but it presses steadily on in the same direction, redefining what home and love and peace look like, redefining always, this upside-down kingdom always reintroducing itself to me, new rooms forever being revealed.
I spoke at a conference last year and told them how we’d always wanted to live near the water, had gotten used to being landlocked for five years before I recognized the creek that flows through our neighborhood. The water. I laughed about how I should have been more specific about the kind of water, not knowing that we were headed for a beach. That somehow we’ve always been headed for this beach across the world.
And it’s binding us together even as we say goodbye to others, this awareness that it’s the four of us: I sit on the floor with the boys and feel a familiar jolt of sadness as three months stretch ahead, unspooling so quickly that I have to catch my breath sometimes, but the sadness gives way to the simple realization, the same one I had on that New York rooftop: I get to bring the best part with me. I look at their faces, their eyes, think of how they have no idea of what’s coming. And I don’t either, really. But their faces and his will be the ones that go with me, that fill my days still, even fourteen hours ahead. They are always a part of home.
The benediction a few Sundays ago came just after I’d read the passage where Jonah gets a shady tree to sleep under; then it vanishes and he curses the God who gave it in the first place. God asked him (paraphrased): “You mad, bro?” Jonah replied in the affirmative and God bounced back (again, paraphrased): “You didn’t make it. It came and went in a night, bro.” I have so many shade trees that up and leave, and this is what I heard that Sunday:
May all your expectations be frustrated. May all your plans be thwarted. May all your desires be withered into nothingness–that you may experience the powerlessness and poverty of a child and sing, dance, and trust in the love of God who is Father, Son, and Spirit.*
Done and done. And doing. By a grace that refuses to leave, that doesn’t give prescriptions or to-do lists or hurdles to jump over, but this: its presence. “It was…his presence that saved them.”
*quoted in The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning as a blessing given to Henri Nouwen by his spiritual mentor. (Thanks, LE!)