The many hills, the turning miles,
Complaisance in the summer sun;
A hundred tears plus twice the smiles,
The everything, the anyone
The streets of friends and would-be friends,
The cul-de-sacs of turns gone wrong,
The highways, highways everywhere
That lead us far and keep us long
I see your face in truth-filled dreams,
The warmth and light you give, my friend,
As highways, highways, bring us back
And to each other’s side again …
I know the route. Turn off the highway onto Broad Street. Follow that out of town to the county road. Turn off of that onto a street with no sign, but a red barn, and from there onto a dirt road that leads here.
I first came here for a wedding rehearsal more than thirty-three years ago. I was twenty-two, and the wedding was of two friends: one new, one I’d known since childhood. For the first time in my (then young) life, I had not been asked to provide music; instead, I was in the groom’s party. I had come to know the bride-to-be in the previous year, and I loved her in the same way I loved my old friend — without thought, really, because love was like breathing in those days. I just did it.
The wedding the next day was very beautiful. Later in the day, as we watched the newly married couple depart under a beautiful country sky, I took in the scenery, breathed in the air, and thought — remember this. This day, these feelings. Remember this joy.
Twenty years later, I remember driving to this same church under very different circumstances. Her brother had been murdered.
She had two brothers I had known for years; one very refined, one very much a quiet country type. It was the second one who had died; he was involved in recreational drugs, and a fellow user killed him in his own home, the little trailer around the way.
The church was filled with mourners at the funeral; her parents, her other brother and his wife and child, and a large group of cousins were among the large family there in front. I was with a group of her husband’s old friends, all of whom had attended their wedding decades before, most of whom stayed an extra day or so.
Death is the great dividing line, and it often divides even the survivors, if they allow it. We clung together then in support of our friends, knowing we could not possibly really understand the insupportable weight of their grief.
With maturity comes the illusion of human control; but life teaches us otherwise, and the one thing left we can control – love – is the only recourse we have worth pursuing.
About five years after that, I drove up here again, this time for no reason at all. (We live about ninety minutes away.) It was a Saturday during the fall, and I had taken a series of roads I’d never been on; when I realized I was nearby, I drove the familiar route out to this church.
I got out of my car and could hear the University of Georgia football broadcast coming from a radio nearby. It was a cool autumn day, and Georgia was winning, I believe. I could hear voices of people listening to the game.
On a whim, I drove over to my friends’ house, but they weren’t home. I left them a note I wrote on an envelope from my car’s glove compartment, telling them I’d stopped by and hoped they were well, then left to do more wandering. She called me about two hours later, and we caught up for a while, they I talked to him for another thirty minutes or so while I was driving. They both had started new jobs, and were planning an annual summer party they wanted us to come to next year.
The fourth year of their summer party was last year, but there were more no-shows than attendees; one couple from central Florida made it, and I made it, but no one else showed. One couple had even called them from the road, then inexplicably changed their destination.
Who even death cannot divide, time often can.
Three days ago, I read on Facebook that her mother had passed away. The funeral was to be on Wednesday, so I scheduled time off work to go. I left work and made the familiar drive up here, following the route I’ve come to know so well.
I am the only one of the old friends here, but then I’m the only one who lives close by. I provide whatever solace I can through the act of showing up. I murmur words of sorrow, we hug each other, and I walk outside the ancient country church, blinking at the light and through tears, wishing I had answers I’ll never have, and that no one ever has, because they are beyond us.
We all get tired, and one day, we lay our heads down to rest, and don’t get up again. Love and life go on, but without the once-living and once-loving.
… There’s sorrow that’s beyond beyond
We walk within it every day;
The bliss of ignorance is this –
We don’t see things turn out this way
But love still travels where it can,
And does its best to do its part —
The highways, highways of the soul
The dirt roads of a broken heart
We now know battles will be lost,
And yet we all must do our best —
To love while we have love to give
Until, at last, we take our rest
The clouds above go sweeping by,
The trees stand silent on the way;
The church stands sleeping in the sun,
While living folks go on
About their day