Friday, July 30, 2010

A Day of Friendship

A couple of Thursdays ago and then again yesterday, I drove an hour to the home of a dear friend, C. She and I first met over twenty years ago when we both started graduate studies in English at the University of San Diego. We pushed through classes in medieval literature through modernism, often finding ourselves spending long hours together in the beautiful reading room of the Copley Library. As comprehensive exams drew nearer, we practically lived together in the parquet-floored reading room, poring over nineteenth century novels, medieval masterpieces, and obscure poetry, preparing for the six-hour exam that would either grant us our Master of Arts degrees or condemn us to tragedies unknown.

I was already married as a graduate student; C married J a year into our studies. Immediately J and Keith became good friends, almost as close as C and I were. We exchanged the hosting of dinners at each others' homes, and we attended their wedding. This year while Keith and I celebrate our silver anniversary, C and J celebrate twenty years of marriage.

Immediately after graduate school, I became pregnant with the first of our four children, so while I struggled with diapers and strollers and my first teaching positions, C went on to further graduate studies, earning her Ph.D. at a UC school to the north of us. Eventually she and J also started a family, and we shared kids' birthday parties now rather than the elegant dinners of our married-without-children years.

C settled into teaching at a nearby community college while I switched from teaching university students to educating our own kids at home as well as students in our home school co-op Class Days. As my home schooled high school students completed my writing courses, I often sent them on to C at the community college where they continued their writing journeys. We shared notes on certain students, and eventually I assisted her in teaching a combination online/traditional composition course. Working together again was a true blessing.

But something truly tragic occurred--I don't wish to share the details here--but I am enjoying spending time this summer with C again as her family grapples with their loss. We drive out to the beautiful Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside together in her car, chatting about various subjects--both light topics and more difficult ones. The lecture series we attend is on medieval church history, given by Br. Tom Herbst who is both highly informative and extremely amusing; I blink at noon, unable to understand how two hours passed so quickly and enjoyably.

The retreat grounds of the Mission San Luis Rey are quietly splendid. Green lawns stretch inside the adobe-styled walls and buildings; the roses grow taller than we are and are in full, blowzy bloom, surrounded by easily-irritated bees. Church bells toll the half-hour, echoing softly through the little valley, and sea-breezes toss the tree branches overhead. The only difficult part of the lecture series is sitting inside a building on such glorious July days when one could be outside, drinking in the beautiful surroundings with thirsty gulps.

After the lectures (I took seven pages of notes yesterday!), C and I stroll to the dining room and enjoy the beautiful salad bar and the wonderful food--much of it grown on the mission grounds. Yesterday we both speared perfect avocado quarters, savouring their buttery goodness. We chat, share, and enjoy each others' company, perhaps even more than we did twenty years ago as grad students.

After lunch we slowly but purposefully walk to the cemetery area of the mission grounds. Here, in the old walled section, the gusty breezes soften as if in respect, and headstones, centuries old, settle into the verdant lawn. A newer pond glistens in the mellow sunshine as we pass by, on our way to the newer section of the cemetery. Crossing a road, we leave the walled part of the cemetery behind and walk down a wide cement sidewalk, fuschia bougainvillea to our left and cemetery markers to our right, these newer ones set into the lawn. Young trees dot the deep green grass, their thin branches hung with dozens of wind chimes which sing sweetly with the merest breath of sea breeze. Roses of pale pink climb a rounded trellis at the center of the lawn, their almost-transparent petals reaching toward the sun.

We slow as we approach the bronze statue of the Ascension of Mary, her face gently joyful as she reaches her arms heavenward to be greeted by her Father, her Son. Around the marble base of the statue are the marbled holy-earthly homes of those interred. Yesterday C placed a bunch of lavender tied with purple ribbon in the small flower holder; I placed a miniature pale pink rose with a few sprigs of rosemary ("for remembrance," as Ophelia reminds us). We touch the unmarked marble square, sacred now, and holy, our tears welling. C crosses herself.

Listening, we hear the chimes gently singing, birds nearby melding their chirps into the song, and we hear children chattering and laughing. This holy place is also an earthly place--a place of sun and sea-breezes, of music and bells, of laughter and play--and of history, beloved history, as one of the first churches in California. It's the perfect resting place--only we wish, with all our hearts, that she didn't have to be here like this--that she could come dancing home from here, tired from a day in the sunshine and wind.

But at least she's well at last.

Silently C and I walk back to the car, alone yet together in our thoughts. We chat on the way to her home--about education, teaching, family, friends, love and loss.

And we hope to return next week to the beautiful Mission San Luis Rey and do it all again.

With loving thoughts,


Jane D. said...

What a beautiful picture of your day you draw here Susanne, I hope you both continue to be blessed by your friendship x.

Deidra said...

I was right there with you and C as you shared your presence with her.

This gift of friendship that God gives to us is greater than we know, I think.

Susanne Barrett said...

Thanks, Jane and Deirdra. I appreciate your kind and encouraging comments! :)


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