dear hilary: keep a vigil

Dear Hilary,

How do you love your friends when something happens – something hard or scary or sad or all of the above? How do you say something when everything is unsayable? When you’re thrown for a loop, when someone moves and the other stays, when someone is changing and it all seems to go so fast you can’t get your mind to wrap around it, and it feels like everything is on the brink of being lost? How do you love them when you don’t even know yourself what it is you should say, or all the words dry up like sawdust in your mouth the second you think to speak them?

A worried friend

Dear A worried friend,

A friend loves at all times. That’s Proverbs. I heard it first on a promotional video at a conference full of women older than me, women with children and husbands and dreams I sometimes had trouble understanding, we were in such different places. I heard it, the words lilting out over a full audience while I held a seven month old girl as she whimpered for her mother, who was the one speaking those words, her South African accent adding a dip and pull to the syllables. I stored it up, those words in her voice in that crowded hotel ballroom, stored it up for a moment like yours, when the telephone lines of friendship get tangled and we fear, desperately, that we have lost a connection.

A friend loves at all times.

You have to keep a vigil now. It is a deep and difficult practice, one that will test your ability to forgive and be the forgiven. You have to walk the long road in the middle of the night, the daily work of loving in the midst of change, the daily work of accepting that perhaps you do not understand but you love, and understanding is not needed before we love, it is a gift we receive in the midst of love.

You have to keep a vigil, because when we are fragile creatures of bones and skin and heart muscle beating out of time with itself and when we live in a world where everything that we thought we knew we did not know, and all that we assumed we could never face until we were grown up we face today. Keep a vigil over this friend, from whatever distance or proximity, from whatever time of day or night.

The same night I heard that message I remember not sleeping. It might have been the pullout couch mattress in the hotel room, or it just might have been my heart, sore and tired from asking those hungry and impatient questions. I crept out of bed, and into the tiny hotel bathroom, and stared at myself in the mirror. My face was pale, my freckles like tiny stars sprinkled over the bridge of my nose. I was so tired, and I wanted to sleep, and I stood with the cold bathroom tile against my feet and then I lay down on the floor, curled into a ball, and cried and cried and cried. I stopped only to worry that I was waking the woman sleeping peaceful in her bed next to me. I stopped to listen for the baby, and her steady breathing. But oh, how I cried that night, that hotel bathroom in Hershey, Pennsylvania keeping watch over me and the people I was holding onto and the people who, I knew, I must set free.

That was a vigil.

It’s sometimes like that.

Be unafraid to keep it messy. Be unafraid to have days when you don’t want to watch, when you run and your hands brush your face and you wonder why you have been called to this. Be unafraid of how your heart is fragile and is breaking, always breaking, because in breaking it is freed again and again for that refrain, which I know you can hear echoing – a friend loves at all times.

Keep a vigil over it. And look out over the night – can you see us all, our thousand tiny flames lit beside you? You are not alone.



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