In January of 2017, the leadership of my congregation in Indiana graciously granted me a week of vacation. With the blessing of my wife, who did not have that week off, I made plans to return to my hometown of Virginia Beach to relax and reconnect with family and friends. But one of those friends, Myke, who I’ve known for 30 years, now lives two hours west of the beach, in Richmond. So I decided to make his domicile the first stop on my respite, and to spend 3 days with him and his beloved Jennifer.
So, on the evening of Sunday, January 11th, I flew from Indianapolis, Indiana to Richmond, Virginia. Myke was working that night, so Jenny picked me up at the airport. Strangely, it was much colder in Virginia than Indiana. The ground was covered with 12 inches of snow, but Jenny drove cautiously on the icy roads all the way back to the house. Myke arrived at the house shortly after we did, and we hugged and immediately began catching up on where our lives have traveled during the 14 months since we had last seen each other.
Time is a strange thing. In many ways Myke and I are different people than when we were teenagers. Now we have careers, mini-vans, and mortgages. We have grey in our hair, bifocals on our noses, and on the rare occasion when we run there’s definitely more jiggling than when we ran on the track during our days at Kempsville Junior High. Also unlike our lives back then, now we’re both blessed with virtuous women who keep us grounded and kids who keep us young. But regardless of the changes, the distance, and the amount of time that passes between seeing each other, we always seem to be able to pick up where we left off and to meet each other right where we are.
And so, we had three days together. Myke was off from work, and Jenny worked from home. We had no agenda, no itinerary, and we felt no pressure to do anything in particular. It was cold, so we were content to remain indoors and simply be together. In the spirit of a true winter vacation, the three of us stayed up late, slept in, and lounged around in flannel pajamas. We imbibed on homemade waffles and coffee in the morning, watched TV in the afternoon, and sipped bourbon by the fire in the evening. We laughed hysterically, and talked about theology, books, music, and movies. They filled me in on how their kids were doing, I brought them up to date on Shelley and the girls. We told stories of the past, discussed the intricacies of the present, and shared our hopes and wishes for the future. We sympathized with one another’s pain, and rejoiced in one another’s triumphs. And topping it all off, we spent hours indulging one of our favorite activities: Playing guitar and singing.
We played and sang almost all of our favorites, and taught each other a few new ones as well. The wooden floors of their Richmond home reverberated with our versions of songs by artists ranging from Jackson Browne to Colin Hay, from The Allman Brothers to Indigo Girls, from Del Amitri to David Wilcox, from Bob Dylan to Jeffrey Gaines. And given the fact that our love for all things John Denver was probably the first common interest we discovered in each other over 30 years ago, we inevitably belted out several of his hits as well, including one very fitting for the occasion: “Poems, Prayers, and Promises.”
We talk of poems and prayers and promises,
and things that we believe in.
How sweet it is to love someone,
How right it is to care.
How long it’s been since yesterday,
And what about tomorrow?
What about our dreams,
and all the memories we share?
As we played and sang that song from the comfort of the ottoman in their living room, something struck me: The sweetness of loving and caring for someone in the present seems to be strengthened by sharing our memories of the past and our dreams for the future.
This got me to thinking further: Every time I celebrate the Eucharist with my congregation, part of the ritual involves what is known in the historic liturgy as the anamnesis. It involves verbally recalling both the work of Christ in the past and his promised return in the future. And, as we do so, we believe that Jesus Christ is really with us in the present. We refer to it as “the real presence” of Christ in the Eucharist, and it is one of the most profound mysteries in the world.
But I’m wondering if perhaps a similar mystery is also at work in our relationships: Could it be that recalling the past and hoping in the future (whether through conversation, music, or dining together) makes us more present to one another in the present? Perhaps there’s something to what Jean-Pierre de Caussade called “The Sacrament of the Present Moment.”
As my time in Richmond drew to a close, Myke and Jenny made plans to meet me in Virginia Beach on Friday night at a place called Tempt Restaurant and Lounge. Several old friends and I had made reservations to eat dinner there and to stick around after dinner to see Lewis McGehee perform. Lewis is a well-known icon in the Tidewater area music scene, and has been an inspiration to Myke and me since our high school days when we first started getting serious about playing guitar and writing songs.
And so, as I drove away from Myke and Jenny’s on Wednesday afternoon, I was excited to arrive in Virginia Beach, to spend time with my grandmother and several other close friends from my youth, and to see Lewis McGehee with Myke and Jenny.
Friday night soon arrived. The evening didn’t disappoint. I had a blast reconnecting with several close friends, whose amazing presence in my life is part of another narrative I have and will continue to write about in other posts. And of course, Lewis was fantastic as always. He played all of our requests, and he played them incredibly: These Days, Just Like a Woman, Fire and Rain, Peaceful Land, and Mostly Me.
Around 11 p.m. we decided to head out. So, I hugged Lewis goodbye, and we walked to Murphy’s Pub with my old friend Chris, and danced to “Sweet Caroline” and other assorted hits performed live by The Fighting Jamesons. Chris went home around 12:30, and Myke, Jenny and I walked across the street to our hotel. We stayed up rather late talking and laughing, until we all started to dose off. I went back to my room and fell asleep smiling, I’m sure. The next morning the three of us had breakfast together at Nic’s Diner. After breakfast, Myke and Jenny had to make their way back to Richmond. I still had a couple of days left at the beach, so we said long goodbyes, exchanged hugs, and then my two dear friends drove off towards the Expressway.
I was filled with joy from the time we had together, but I also ached with pain and sadness. I knew I would miss Myke and Jenny. I knew I would miss the songs we sang together, the meals we shared, and the stories behind all of the laughter and tears. But most of all, I knew I would simply miss their presence.
As I walked out to the beach, I was reminded of a song Lewis McGehee wrote several years ago, which he sings almost every time he performs:
So I guess we must remain
Behind this veil of ignorance and pain
Just knowing that time
Will keep us her own
And force us to live with the seeds that we’ve sown.
And still the trees bend slightly back
as the wind whispers in.
Hold on tight,
before it’s gone.
There’s nothing to fight,
and we must belong
to the growing of grass and the falling of leaves.
It’s a great metaphor, and one I’ve been thinking about a lot in recent weeks. Parts of our lives are growing, while other parts are dying. Both are necessary, and both are beautiful. The key is to be present for one another through the growing and the dying. In fact, the most beautiful gift anyone can give us is simply the gift of their presence in our lives.