We were in the park, smoking cigars.
He was talking to me about her. She was beautiful. (And she was; she was stunning.) He was talking about loving her, marrying her. Someday. Someday slanted though, tilted close, someday could be next month. Would they elope? I took a drag. My second cigar in my life. Bitter. I liked it because I loved him. That’s how these things go, I think.
He was my best friend.
(I emphasize the past tense.This was the moment when it broke. This is the moment when after a year of doing ministry together, a year of him with guitar and me with Word, a year of loving people, a year of thinking we were called to something, it hairline fractured. Just enough.)
He told me that he might maybe just sort of could be sleeping with her.
And might maybe just sort of could be it didn’t matter that he was.
They were in love. That made it alright.
(With God? With me? I was uncertain.)
They were in love. That meant he could keep doing the ministry thing.
In the bushes, saying it was just because we had worked out before, that I hadn’t eaten that day, that I inhaled the smoke of the cigar instead of holding it in my mouth. I made a rosary of my lies as I hid the reason, the overwhelming feeling that my world was tearing, that I didn’t know what to do or say.
I’ve never had a cigar since. I think that says something, at least.
“Where are you?”
My professor calls me when I’m at the turn on the highway that points me home. I’m an hour from campus. I inform her of this. It’s Thanksgiving break. I’m skipping my last class. Not her’s, someone else.
“I can’t do it.” I am clipped in response. She already knows that I can’t do. She knows that I have been his roommate for the past four months, how after the announcement in the park, everything else broke too. She knows that I had tried, poorly, to keep things loving, how he had stopped going to church altogether, how he hated me when I said I was considering attending the Episcopal church–You like all that stand up, cross yourself bullshit?–he asked me that once, in the Mexican diner off the corner of the church with the billboard that said Jesus had a fishing story too.
(An aside, a few decades ago, my mother was the senior adult coordinator and leader for that church. It was before they had a sign that talked about Jesus and fishing stories. Strange how our worlds circle back on us.)
“Come back. Go to class.” She was insistent. I said nothing. “You have to come back,” she pushed. “You have to come back, because there will come a point in your life when it won’t be packing your car and leaving campus. You’ll be looking up flights to Paris, packing bags, and running from your life. You have to stop fleeing to Paris.”
I pulled over. I sat in silence for a few minutes. I turned my car around, headed back. She made me Moroccan for lunch. Well, in her way. She microwaved a frozen dinner and handed me a banana. It was, in its ordinariness, one of the most formative moments of my life.
The first summer I moved to England, it was to escape. I told everyone that it was to do mission work with a church, but it was to escape. It was, by proxy, my ticket to Paris. It was the fleeing from the former best friend, the park, the might maybe just sort of could be.
Tread lightly in those spaces, I learned, because the healing was quiet work and came when I didn’t know what was coming. Came like spark.
The second summer I went to England, it was to discern. I had healed from the former best friend, the park, but I had healed in the sort of cauterized way. The blood stopped spilling, but the stub left behind was an ugly thing. The stub was wound I was not ready for Christ to heal.
(It was my justification. I know that, now, but I did not know it then.)
Again, I fled to Paris. Literally this time. I boarded a Eurostar the day after arriving in London and I fled to Paris.
I was standing on a platform waiting for a train at Gare du Nord, the Parisian central line, when something caught in the wind, Holy Ghost like ice, and somehow I was snapped to myself, to see clearly what was before me: I want it all to be black and white.
For all my talk of grace. Of greys.
I want the distinctions.
I want you to be hero in my fairy tale. Or the villain. I want you to choose a side and always, ever, be that way. It’s why I think it sensible to flee to Paris when trouble brews, because I believe that with one motion the lot has been decided. (Not everyday, I don’t think, this naive perspective only creeps in on the tired day, the blue nights, in the midst of the deep hurts.)
I don’t want you to be grey.
It’s too hard. It’s too complicated. It’s too beautiful and too terrible.
You flee to Paris.
An expensive metaphor, but it is the metaphor I seem to live by.
I push out an orphan prayer that I am unsure reaches up to God: How to grace?
A poor prayer. Fragment prayer. Child prayer. But essential: I ask the means. I ask an infinitive, an ongoing, immediate verb.
How to grace?
Today, I move to Scotland. I’m taking a redeye out of Houston. I’ll wake in London. Connect.
(I am a fleer. I repeat this to myself, another sort of rosary. What am I doing? I’ve been rambling about this for weeks now and people have misunderstood. They think I’m afraid to go. They think I don’t know how to restart. What has not come across, what I have not admitted directly, is I know how to go too well. I know how to flee too well.)
I have packed my life into three large suitcases. I have healed, in the packing, the former best friend, the park. Healed. (He has healed. I forget that too often.) I have laughed a bit and smiled old. I have placed the essentials of being into a small portion and willed, prayed, vagabond prayer to the vault of heaven, that when I get on that plane I don’t lose myself to the grief of leaving those loved.
How to grace?
It still rattles ’round my heart.
I still see too black and white–again, for all this talk of grey. Such talk. Would that talk could be prayer. (I think it can be. Some days, this is the only thing that keeps me afloat.)
Today, I move to Scotland. And I don’t want to go. I don’t want to leave the ones I love. I don’t want to uproot. I don’t want to flee. Not this time. Not yet.
Go and I shall show you.
Whispered against my ear once, I believe He repeated it to heart, to being.
(I shall go to Paris in the spring, as it happens. A vague aside, but worth saying. I am still going.)
But might maybe just sort of could be this is fleeing?
How to grace?
No. I think this is about fleeing to Him. I think this is about learning trust. I think this is about orphan prayers finally reaching the throne of God.
And that’s how to grace.
See you on the other side of the ocean.
And I wonder, you, friend, if you flee to Paris too?