I have this counterproductive dance I do with my long-distance loved ones.
Here’s how it goes: when I don’t expect to see faraway friends and family anytime soon, I’m pretty good at keeping in touch. I make calls, write cards, and send care packages.
But when I do expect to see people soon – say, in the weeks just before a family vacation – I slack off. I don’t call, and I hold back from sharing. My justification for this is that I’m saving up the best discussion topics for in-person interaction.
My sweet family, Thanksgiving 2015 – we’ve been taking group-shot selfies since way before they were cool.
Alas, this saving up mentality doesn’t deliver on its promises.
I don’t feel close to my loved ones when I’m hoarding information. Rather, I feel close to beloved people when I’m sharing my stories, trusting that there will always be more to tell.
Being filmed for a documentary is a peculiar exercise. I say this because, for the last six months, I’ve been working with filmmaker Edwin Mah on a documentary about finding meaning in your most challenging relationships, simple living, and loving someone with special needs. It’s wild to think that an actual filmmaker is making an actual film about the things I love and strive for, but so it is.
As such, Edwin has filmed several interviews with me, my yoga practice, my tiny studio apartment … and last week, he filmed me and my friend Leo* at McDonald’s, Leo’s favorite neighborhood haunt.
Outside the Lincoln Library, 2008
On this balmy afternoon, sunlight filters through the windows. The intensity of the light makes filming somewhat difficult for Edwin, but I love it even so.
Leo and I stand together as he orders his coffee, then walk slowly up the winding stairs to the table where Edwin’s setting up his camera. As we start to talk, I feel self-conscious, but within five minutes we’ve forgotten the camera and the silent filmmaker. Edwin’s unobtrusiveness allows us to simply enjoy each other’s company.
We talk about Leo’s week, my family, historical trivia … anything and everything. The conversation ebbs and flows. Five years ago, I thought that Leo and I had nothing in common. Now, we have a shared history, mutual interests, and adventures enough to carry us through coffee. I can’t help but marvel at our ‘impossible’ friendship, which finds us laughing at McDonald’s while being filmed for a documentary. Who would have thought?
At the start of our conversation, while I still have the consciousness that the camera is on us, I notice that the lenses of Leo’s glasses are smudged. As I have many times before, I follow my instinct and ask Leo if I can help by cleaning them. He agrees, and I gently lift the frames, take a napkin and some water and set to work.
Photo Credit: Tucker Walsh
As I am rubbing the lenses, I think, This is the best of what we do for one another: gently clearing away the grime and helping each other to see. Leo has helped me to see where I’d otherwise have been blind. Thanks to Leo, I slow down more often. Thanks to him, I have been invited to see the beauty in purple flowers, ABBA songs, Mini Coopers … many of his favorite things have become my favorites too, because he has taught me to delight in them.
In addition to our adventures in documentary film, Leo and I also finished reading a biography of Stephen A. Douglas this week. We purchased the book on our 2008 trip to Springfield, Illinois, and three years of weekly reading and 870+ pages later, we have finally turned the last page.
As I read out the last lines to Leo, I feel my throat tightening; we’ve been reading this book for so long that its ending doesn’t feel as triumphant as I’d expected. Instead, it’s bittersweet. Stephen A. Douglas has died, and the final lines are a eulogy. Leo asks a quick question about the burial, and then falls silent. I am quiet too.
Leo and I haven’t talked about the fact that my husband and I will be relocating to our house in small-town Alabama this summer, that we won’t live down the block from him anymore. I hope to continue our weekly reading time over Skype, but I know that it will not be the same. It will be the end of a chapter in our story. Yet even as I turn the page, I can’t help but trust in the Love which scripted the story in the first place.
It’s a humbling thing to realize: none of the best things in my life have been expected. Not my time at L’Arche, not my friendship with Leo, not my deepest friendships, not falling in love with my husband. None of my greatest joys has ever been planned … at least, not by me.
There’s a part of me that can’t imagine living far away from Leo and the others at L’Arche, yet there’s also a part of me that’s tremendously excited about the new adventure. And that’s fitting, because Leo has helped me to see that what appears to be a definite ending may, in fact, be a beginning in disguise.
Who has helped you to see clearly this week? Tell me in the comments!
I love to hear your insights.
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