the ache is still beautiful, a letter to preston
Do y’all remember when Preston and I were writing all those letters last year, Tuesdays and Thursdays, writing out this ramble through faith and life and coffee late at night and Gossip Girl and all the rest? And how, those letters, they were the beginning of something wondrous? We are beginning again, new and the same, our selves familiar and not. You can read his last letter to me here.
I will never, ever, ever, EVER do long-distance.
Was that what I said? Did I say that to you once, in a conversation, in passing, probably tilting my head the way I do when I’m not sure what I’m saying is true, but I want to convince you that I’m being really thoughtful? I imagine you were painting in your garage at the time, and I could hear the paint hit the canvas with some kind of fierceness that I didn’t understand. You paint forcefully, and sometimes I think maybe that’s the way of making beauty; a little forceful, the way that brightness asks for strength to bear it. Sometimes, when we’re on Skype and you can’t see me, I close my eyes, and listen to you painting, and the silence says more than my words will.
But me and that long distance. My vehemence when I said those words seems to grow in my memory, a defiance to it I’m not sure was there, but makes a story somehow wilder, so I tell it that way. I was stamping my feet against the old hardwood of my bedroom floor, or something like that, insisting that the way of love must be just something daily, something clear and easy and full of Friday nights barefoot on a beach or along a boardwalk somewhere and that attempting to build across miles and continents and time changes was the worst idea, ever.
Never mind the stories I have been told my whole life. Never mind the long walk through the woods behind campus that sunlit afternoon when my dear friend told me that our choices weren’t ever about distance, but about steadfastness in the face of it. That distance could be agonizingly hard but that the space created between those two distinct places, and those two distinct people, would be nearer and closer, a mystery closed to those who watch it. And of course that afternoon, when my mother opened the pages of her own writing to me, the binding frayed and worn by love and how she, like me, said she’d never do long distance.
But I knew the ache already, I said. I knew the work. I knew the uncertainty. I would never give it a try.
I knew so little, P. I knew so little of the ache.
Because this? This ache is beautiful.
This is the ache of remembering how we sit side by side at that kitchen table and make worlds with our words, offering each other living water for the journey. This is the ache of how I can hear how you laugh with me, almost falling off your chair, how I can feel your hand brush the small of my back as we go up for Eucharist, how I remember the way you look at me sometimes, this look of wonder that just takes my breath away.
This is the ache of how our hearts whisper loud across time zones but gentle when we’re in the same room. This is the ache of wanting to tell you when I burst in the door out of breath from running with God that I realized, just then, the radical grace that is when God and I are quiet, together, how I can feel Him running with me but how sometimes, when I complain to Him (like I did the other day) that He feels far away His words are sharp and quick about the reason He runs with me (love, and sanctification, and my feeble heart). I’m longing to tell you, not in messages or typed words, but in the look on my face and the unspoken question I know you’ll ask me, and how I will answer just by nodding and smiling. And we will have said a thousand things without saying them.
I knew nothing about the wild love of long distance. I knew nothing about how the bridges it builds withstand the longest days and heaviest hearts, how the spaces of Skype and these two blogs and how you write my name on an envelope, they are spaces that are gifts, too. And I am the first to say, to you, to whoever might read this, that the distance aches and hurts and the dip and sway of it sometimes knocks me over.
But I’d not be me if I didn’t admit to you, that more truly, I knew so little of this, how beautiful it is. How wondrous they seem now, the people I thought foolish for trying something I called impossible. How beautiful, how brave. How I now want to call each of them up and say, “I need you to know I see your courage and your strength, how you wove the threads that kept you, cocooned in love.” How I want to tell them that the ache is agonizing and how I miss you,
but how their ache, and ours, is still beautiful.