Sunday, August 24, 2008
She was wearing a mint green suit the first time I met her. She approached me to introduce herself with this smile that even my cynical self couldn't doubt. In that moment of introduction I went out on a limb and decided that I'd be friends with this woman if she'd be friends with me. My life was in a secret shambles. I knew that my marriage was in serious trouble but I hadn't spoken it aloud. When I tried to talk to Dean he brushed me off. But there was something wrong. Something terrifying was being born in our home and I was the only one who knew it.
So I figured when it all finally fell apart, I'd need a friend. Maybe the smiling green suit would be that person.
Her youngest was older than my oldest and she was giggling about having just gotten back into that suit but knowing full well she looked "stuffed" into it. She didn't care, she was just happy to have squeezed it on. She whispered to me that she was wearing a girdle. This sealed the deal, if we could talk girdles, we could be friends. She brought me into the circle of friends there at church where ladies talked about their kids and their husbands and their homes. She was proud of her family without being arrogant. She openly loved her husband and openly shared their imperfections at the same time. When I dropped hints that my marriage was hurting, she didn't miss a beat. She just kept smiling that warm smile but somehow, a gentle sorrow for my pain was added to her eyes. I never felt that she looked down on me. I believed she wanted my family to survive.
Her businessman husband talked and prayed me through the night when Dean was at work and somehow the secret something had become large and loud and out of control. The smiling green suit never really gave me any advice. She wasn't someone who needed to be your advisor. Just kept on that same steady track of friendship, accepting my conversations whether they were outpourings of sadness or just small talk.
I don't know when the healing came on the timeline of our friendship. We were never BFFs. I don't think I ever had a phone conversation with her unless it was to confirm what we were bringing to the church picnic. I didn't tell her my deep dark secrets, didn't catch her up on the latest every day when the Mr. left for work. But somewhere between a few months and a few years later, God healed us. The role of the smiling green suit and her husband remained one of there when they were needed and stepping aside when they weren't. Taking what we could give when we could give it.
She kept being a proud wife and mom, clearly loving her family. She was fulfilled in being the one who drove this child to soccer practice or that one to music lessons. She took pleasure in keeping her husband's business suits laundered and had his shirts pressed at the cleaner so they'd have an extra sharp crease. She knew their ins and outs and made their lives sweeter in the small ways individual to each of them.
And then she changed. She became short-tempered and sarcastic. She slammed doors. She stopped smiling. She stopped chatting about meat loaf recipes and soft ball games.
The business man husband didn't think he wanted to be married any longer. He didn't come to church and we kept asking where he was. Her answers were simple at first, "he's out of town" and then biting, "how should I know?" Where I used to count her as among one of my favorite people, I dreaded being around her. She was so angry and so sad that she became a force that seemed too powerful for me, I didn't know what to do with her.
Her pain not only erased her smile but turned the air around her heavy and bitter. The scent of it was familiar to me, my own rage and terror had been its equal.
But she was different in one way. At my bottom I wanted Dean destroyed, rode out of town on a rail. Take that bass away. Get him off the stage. Do you know what he is? Anger was all I was for a while there. Spite, revenge. Something to preoccupy me from myself.
She was angry, but it never overtook her love for him. She raged when it was discussed that his position at church should be revoked. He hadn't been there in months. She stood in his place to defend him and remind everyone that this was a good man in a bad time. He moved out of the house and she continued to take his shirts to the dry cleaner to be professionally pressed. She took their children to school and practice and cooked dinner every night and took a full time job because now they were supporting two houses. The week their divorce was final she told me she didn't want him to hurt. She never said anything about the specifics of their split. When his father died she cried for him. When people asked how he was she told whatever good there was, bragged on his accomplishments like she always had. "You know him, he's so smart!" "He's such a perfectionist, it's no wonder he's doing so well." "Pray for him, just pray for us."
I never heard of another man that she might have dated. I'm not saying I would have. We were never that close. She was a warm smile during my coldest days. I tried hard to be that for her, I didn't do it as well.
Years went by with her hugs when we'd run into each other and a whisper in my ear, "Pray for us." Still us. After years. After little kids grew up. After grand babies. Pray for US.
I know that they found one another again and when he was ready, she took him back with joy. I know that the years and the pain are not entirely erased. I know that the trust is slow to build and this new life will be different than the life of the before.
I haven't seen her in a long time now. Him longer. It was at least a year ago when she hugged me and whispered the usual, "Pray for us."
This woman, the woman in the mint green suit who smiled at me, she is love. She who was brave and honest enough to bear her grief without shame and somehow protect the dignity of the one who had destroyed her. She who kept a home for his return not knowing if it would ever happen. She who had moments of rage and ugliness. I now realize her angriest moments were those when she was left standing alone to demand that his friends stand by him as they wanted to turn away. She who was once one of a couple and then came alone to graduation parties. She who once had such an easy smile and then looked so tired I wondered how she stood up. She who loved, raged and came full circle to put her heart again on the line for him.
Today I don't know where they are. I think together. I haven't heard anything. We've drifted, that group of friends and us. This morning I awoke and thought of her. I bet that first smile was about 20 years ago.
After all this time, her impact on my life remains. Love dies for the beloved.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.