Every afternoon I corral him into a corner, his slanted, bow-legged run coming to a quick halt when the only way forward is straight towards his little mat. He knows his time is up, but the sideways smirk tells me he’s glad he tried anyway. I sweep him up and firmly place him down, wrapping him up mummy-style so there’s no hope of flailing feet or wandering fingers. Three months ago this routine brought on tears & screams & scenes – today all I get is that sideways smirk to remind that sleeping was my idea, after all, and he’s not sorry.
As soon as all of his little self is encompassed in the warm folds of his naptime roll, however, my little man transforms. The smirk softens into a contented little grin, and as I pat him gently on his chest to lull him into submission and sleep, he nuzzles his face into my arm, looks me straight in the eye and says, “I miss you.”
“But I’m right here!” I used to say.
Today I smiled & said, “I love you too.”
Everyday it’s the same, and every day until today I’ve wanted to correct him; to stop patting him long enough to teach him a thing or two about verb usage and/or the human heart. But today I got to thinking,
….maybe, after all, my friend’s little word substitution is more profound than he understands just yet.
When I was seventeen, I had my first little scrap of a love affair. It was actually this long, drawn-out, dramatic thing, but I call it a scrap now because if you’ve ever been in unrequited love with your boyfriend… you know my story. But oh! The dreams and the thoughts and the concepts he left me! The poems, the stories, the songs that have formed me into myself! It was not all for naught.
It is never all for naught.
One word he taught me, in our rendevous gazebo on the lawn of Old Main between classes, was the Portuguese “saudade”. It means love and longing; it means missing with your whole self. He told me, breathless and wide-eyed as usual, that sometimes native speakers used it to mean “missing something they’d never known”. A nostalgia, of sorts, for the future; for the unreachable or the as-yet-unreached. I watched his eyes and I knew, even as the words flowed out of his mouth, that I knew exactly what he meant.
I missed the all of him I had not yet discovered. I longed for all the things I had yet to find out. He was simultaneously within reach & just beyond it – and my whole passion-ridden, seventeen-year-old soul ached for what I could not yet have. And, as it turns out, I never would have.
And when my little man stares up at me with those enormous chocolatey eye-spheres and tells me he misses me – me, sitting right next to him, band-aiding his every scratch and wiping his every tear and mummy-wrapping him every day, I get to thinking that maybe loving and missing are not so different after all.
When it comes to love, the appetite for more is insatiable. I cannot get enough of the beloved, and I don’t intend to ever stop looking. While I realize that nothing short of infinite can satiate this hunger, I think a common church platitude is to tell people that “nobody but God will ever satisfy you.”
In a way, they’re right. The creator of our souls is the source of the personhood that we revel in when we find it in our friends & our loves. He gives us our infinitude. I see such different embodiments of his creativity and his personality when I find it in his creatures. But I do not neglect His creatures.
I have been ridiculed and misunderstood and shot down and laughed off for trying so hard with people. In fact, I have about a week-long period every six months or so where I decide that I HATE EVERYBODY and NOBODY’S WORTH IT and ALL MY FRIENDS SUCK and my heart just breathes for a bit. That’s not a failure on my part – it’s just a water break. Then, of course, after I’ve breathed and licked my wounds and offered them to Jesus, I get right back up there. That’s all I know of love.
Because, in light of the ridiculous, radical saving grace of the cross, running and throwing in the towel are no longer options.
So, here today, in the presence of all these e-witnesses, I promise to miss you.
I promise to care.
If you are hurting or have been knocked down or are fighting against the monsters of privilege and injustice, I promise to hurt too. This is the only way that I myself can fight with you, but I will be dedicated to the task.
Your wounds will be my wounds.
Your hurts will be my hurts.
Where you go I will go, because I am Ruth, and all I know how to do is to tirelessly follow the ones that I love.
I know I am offering up my heart for a task it is not equal to, but I have the First Heart on my side and that’s a foundation worth standing on.
Friends, strangers, neighbors, sisters,
Old loves & new loves,
frustrated seekers and watchful doubters,
freedom fighters and feminists,
Republicans and reprobates,
lawyers and liberals,
the lost & found & still looking, hear this:
I love you, and I miss you.