Tender at the Broken Places

Driving along yesterday afternoon I glanced in my rear view mirror and noticed the familiar double hood scoops of a late 1990’s model black Pontiac  Trans Am following close behind me, the same car my son drove from the time he graduated high school until he sold it seven years later. It wasn’t exactly the same - none of the custom charcoal gray striping or badging my son designed for his - but it gave me a little start nonetheless to see that familiar “face” in my mirror. I was surprised to find my eyes filled with tears. Suddenly I missed my son so much - it was an ache in the pit of my stomach, the same ache I used to get driving home after work and knowing his car wouldn’t be in the driveway, the same ache I felt getting on the airplane after I visited him when he first left for college. My heart felt so tender in that moment, my emotions gathered in a huge lump in my throat.

When all this happened, I was on my way to meet my stepmother for lunch. I had not seen her since we parted after my dad’s death in November. We’ve talked on the phone, texted and emailed occasionally. I am always mindful of her words the day I left last November- “Please don’t forget about me,” she said. “I won’t,” I promised. And I have not. But I was anxious about seeing her again, seeing her without my dad. I couldn’t help remembering what we went through together just the two of us in those strange three days when we said goodbye to him. I anticipated being washed in sadness and feeling lonely and grief stricken all over again.

But we hugged and smiled through lunch, and we talked about her children and grandchildren - her new great-grandson whom she had come to Michigan to meet for the first time. I told her my best Connor stories and showed her pictures and videos. She told me she’s had some cardiac problems, and I wonder how much she neglected her own health in these last few years as she expended so much time and energy caring for my dad.

I felt sadness, but not as much as I had expected.

My son has been gone from home a long time, and I feel like I’ve come to terms with all that. I don’t get choked up at the airport anymore. I don’t constantly wonder where he is and what he’s doing. He has a good life, a happy family, and although I think of him daily, it’s most often with a sense of satisfaction rather than longing or angst.

My dad has been dead for nine months, and I thought I’d come to terms with all that too. But I realized that there will always be tender places in my heart for those precious things that are no longer with me - my son’s childhood and youth, my father’s warm and loving spirit. It’s like the bone in my elbow, the one I cracked 10 winters ago in a fall on an icy sidewalk. When I stretch or strain it too much, there’s a sudden, sharp twinge of pain followed by a few moments of achy tenderness. In a reflex movement, I reach over with my other hand and massage it gently. “There there,” I say with my protective touch. “Just calm down, it will be alright."

When we get those little soul-aches, those episodes of wistfulness and longing, where do we go for comfort? I spent today looking for that kind of comforting. I wasn’t terribly successful - not in line at the Secretary of State, not fighting traffic on the well-traveled road to my mother’s house, not shopping for groceries in the local supermarket.

But a cooler breeze is blowing this evening, taking the humid summer air along with it. It’s quiet on the deck, and my new chairs are soft and enveloping. A steady parade of neighbors pass by, their happy dogs pulling them along, and we greet each other with smiles and nods.

All of us on this road of life together, each of us with our own tender places in need of a little loving care.

May we find it and take comfort in it.