Only a handful of days each year are endowed with such magic you can savor their flavor as if they were cherry picked direct from the pages of the calendar just for you. And for days and years to come, they occasionally fall back into your lap again as a pleasure to rediscover.
Under the shade of a summer afternoon mulberry, it was one of those days.
The brunch menu of cold finger sandwiches, summer fruits and sweet iced tea laid in the shade of our quilted blanket while overhead, the azimuth of the sun foretold the end of summer and a welcome slide into cooler autumn breezes and the ensuing holiday season. It was one of those days creation designed for reminiscing.
Friends since age 12, as of that day we had accumulated over 40 years of stories together and apart, each awaiting its turn to be told as we laughed off one after another in a succession of awful punchlines. Memories of our times being kids fortunately never really fade away. They were formative of who we were to become, and today stood as beacons that even back then, our lives meant something and are now lighthouses that guide us home again.
“Did you ever in a million years think we’d have taken the paths to where we are now?” She choked a little on a toasted tuna with mayonnaise too warmed by the sun but washed it down with the juice of cantaloupe slices. Heidi was always a lady. Well, most of the time. Okay, on occasion.
Our paths we once or twice imagined might lead down a road “together” took some sharp, unexpected turns later in life and had indeed turned out remarkably divergent, but today we were reconverging on a soft patch of tall grass in the park under a celestial summer blue sky. We both had grown into and beyond our middle ages and waistlines so nothing was off limits. Nothing ever was. We were affectionately known as Heffah and Skinny and we helped each other through everything from family problems to girl and boy problems, but mostly the boy problems we later discovered we both shared.
Our banter never left any topic completely narrated before the other jumped in with a better one. We didn’t need to finish. We knew the endings. But the lunch hour was passing quickly as the sun yearned for a final burn before we resigned the late afternoon to the coming sunset and ourselves back to the real world which, for hours, seemed to be wonderfully so far away.
“You know, Donnie, (only a choice few are privileged to still use that name in public,) she concluded, “We chose our own paths but never lost each other.” We made the subtle gestures of tidying to begin packing up our tiny spot on the grass. She was right, of course, but her comment wasn’t the kind you simply abandon simply because lunch was over.
If we had chosen our paths rather than our paths being chosen for us, was an important question for heaven that needed an answer.
We closed another book co-authored by best friends until the next time, hugged, pecked and made our vows for another lunch in a couple weeks. After all, four decades apart would take a lot of lunches in the park to fully digest.
But I left preoccupied by that lingering question as I waved and watched her drive away and thanked God for the reunion.
“Questions For Heaven.” I played the song by Chris Rice teary-eyed as I navigated home. Someday, I’ll meet this incredible lyricist whose music has always inspired my deepest personal reflections.
That night in bed was one of those dark nights when you don’t know whether to roll over and write your thoughts for the morning or think up some quick memory trick to trigger you when you awake to its monumental importance in need of answers.
I fell asleep.
The question Heidi had provoked that afternoon about how and why paths are taken nagged. I’m sure such private questions are not unlike your own in some way– the kind we’ve all asked ourselves while lying on our backs in a park one day at the edge of summer.
I believe the answers to the biggest “whys” of our lives are prepackaged within a future heavenly welcome gift, picked out specially for each of us, adorned in sheets of gold and giant ribbons and bows with tiny notes that read:
“Welcome to Heaven. Before you come and see Me, please open this welcome gift.”
Within, I expect to find for me a set of detailed hand-drawn blueprints.
Turning the pages diagramming the chronology of my life from birth to that day, I have imagined little blue penciled arrows pointing to particular people and events and moments I scarcely recall and at the time, deemed utterly insignificant. The legend at the foot of each page will include the brilliant and brief soul-satisfying descriptions of how my life impacted and was, in turn, impacted and unknowingly intertwined with the lives and destinies of thousands if not millions of others. I expect it will show exact moments and actions of myself upon others and vice versa. The icon faces of all the people I had ever encountered and how each spun his and her own stories on other pages in other wrapped boxes awaiting their arrivals to open and discover for themselves the perfect answers to the questions they took to the grave but are now revealed and settled.
I followed the path up to the great throne room where I would spend my eternity.
“Any more questions?”
“Nope. I just don’t understand why all the lifetime of mystery.”
“The questions, Don, are much less satisfying as the effort you make to answer them. I know you labored hard because you had a lot of those little arrows on your blueprints pointing to others who you helped and who in turn helped you. Each was the beginning of an answer to a question of another and your help was greatly appreciated.
So, come rest now, sit with me. I have sandwiches, fruit, tea, a nice blanket and an endlessly blue summer sky for us to enjoy before She arrives once again to join us.”