Mourning doves coo like a soft flute from the windows of Mrs. Holland’s sixth-grade music class at my old brick elementary school. An orchestral arrangement of tweets seems to play mockingbird from all directions. And bright orange streaks of light kiss the tops of rogue bushes and twisted tree trunks. Tiny buds of future daffodils sneak out of the rich dirt, ready to reach for the sky and please the eye.

Going Home

I’ve not been in my hometown in early spring since I left there as a teen about to start my life elsewhere. Though I tend to make a brief appearance every couple of years, this weekend’s visit is a rarity. This homecoming is a grand sendoff for the man whose last name I bear, providing a chance to reconnect, possibly one last time, with cousins and family acquaintances who share our grief.

The silver lining in this dark cloud is making renewed acquaintances, hearing stories we’ve never heard, and seeing people we’ve not seen since “you were this high.”

Deep Freeze

While making arrangements, one of my dad’s lifelong buddies pointed out that we have been frozen in time. His son, now 42 with kids, is stuck in my mind as the 17-year-old I last saw. To him, I’m still 30, about the last time he saw me. We both experienced an unexpected jolt. How can this be?

Though the price paid for this experience was high, there is pure joy and a sense of security when reconnecting with the past.

New Discoveries

Why, we ask, have we not spent more time together over the years, discovering that we like one another and had more in common than we knew? Yet we know somewhere deep down inside that we may never again have this connection unless we are deliberate about it.

Death has a price, but so does life. There is a price for everything, and there is irony in the price. It’s as though I feel guilty having so much joy in seeing these people who have been frozen in time. Seeing faces I’ve not seen since high school, once shiny, hopeful teens and now weathered and tired senior citizens. Another jolt, for a brief moment, but a deep pleasure.

It’s Not Possible

Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again,” and it holds true. We’re here today, gone tomorrow, and all the joy held here is fleeting as we return to our hectic lives, no longer intertwining like the yarn of a comfortable old sweater. Not only is there sadness at the burial, sorrow is also creeping in like an old, gnarly vine as we all figure out that this may be the last time we connect.

Why don’t we spend more time together? Why don’t we do anything? What stands in the way becomes the way. The only alternative to taking things deeper is to identify the obstacle, then chip away or solve it so you reach the desired outcome. Ultimately it boils down to whether we’re willing to pay the price. Is the reward worth the effort? In some cases, yes. In others, well, probably not.

I’d not wish this past few weeks on anyone, but the reward has been sweet just the same. The process of everything we’ve gone through as a family has been a gift, in spite of the price.

A Flood of Gratitude

Though I can dig deeply for things I wish I’d said or done, I feel grateful that I had a chance and took it. And my sensitive, tear-filled eyes, which have more tears to come, have also helped me see the sweet gifts of the process. Now, at least for these raw moments, and hopefully longer, I look at those I love, those I’ve not seen, and appreciate that I can smile and see a smile in return. Appreciation fills my broken heart, and it’s my hope that I can keep the appreciation at a higher level each and every day, never once taking anyone for granted.

Look around you. Look at those you love and ask, if they became dust tomorrow, would you have said what needs to be said, encouraged what needs encouragement, and made it clear, in a deeply meaningful way, that they are appreciated? If not, go now and do this, before breath escapes for the last time.

And reconnect with those you have not seen, and maybe have forgotten, and deeply enjoy those conversations and expressions. The world in which we live at the moment has been filled with scores of unpleasant and unexpected surprises, and that may continue into the future. Don’t look back in regret with good intentions but lacking actions. Reach out, embrace, and feel the joy.

Eric Rhoads