I sat on our bench in the warm summer morning air with my eyes closed. I listened patiently for lingering whispers of Gardner’s voice, perhaps etched into the bark of the trees, the leaves of the shrubbery, or perhaps the components of the bench beneath me. I heard nothing. Without his presence, the garden at the heart of the park was a common garden and the bench of similar value.
Opening my eyes, I looked about what had frequently been an oasis of sacred counsel, to find that it had changed in Gardner’s absence. The veil of shelter had been lifted, making what once seemed like an intimate meeting place, a public space. As my heart had been rid of it’s wall of defense, the evidence of winter had long been overwhelmed by a glorious spring which was giving way to summer.
I acknowledged the change around me and was reminded of Gardner’s parting gift along with the exhortation to embrace the prospect of change within me. I had kept his gift within reach; I valued it as a derivative of the value I had placed on him. I pulled it from the pocket of my jogging pants and held it delicately within my fingertips. Most of the words I thoughtfully considered. Those that seemed to resound with relevance to the season I found myself in, I muttered beneath my breath.
“There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace
“A time for peace,” I whispered lifting my eyes from the card. “…A time for peace.” My heart responded to the prospect of peace with yearning, but it was a concept that eluded me. I hadn’t an inkling where to begin. “A time for peace…” I gazed outward pondering how I might go about realizing the foreign concept in my life. I turned to look beside me, as if hoping to find that Gardner had not in fact left. I was certain he’d have a wise response to my questioning. Alas, the space beside me was vacant. I took a deep breath before tucking the card back into my pocket. A notification popped up unto the screen of my watch: ‘Coffee with Friend’. I stood, performed some semblance of a final stretch, then turned toward home.
Friend was seated at our table awaiting me when I arrived at the cafe. She greeted me warmly as usual.
“Stranger…Right.” I welcomed her embrace before taking my seat.
“You’ve been completely MIA for a few days now. I thought I was gonna have to get someone to go knock down your door.”
“I texted you that I was okay.”
“Text messages don’t tell anyone anything Gracie.”
I successfully concealed a sigh of oncoming exacerbation before responding to her comment. “Sorry, I needed time to process some things.” I knew her well enough to suppose this explanation would not suffice to move her beyond the subject, nevertheless I clung to the hope that it might.
“You know that’s what friends are for….to help you process things.”
“I know…I just wasn’t ready to talk…I wasn’t really sure how to articulate what was going on with me…”
She pulled her chair closer to mine such that our knees were touching. “How is it going though?”
“It’s…going. I honestly don’t know. In some ways, I think I should be happy, but I’m not at that place yet…”
Friend smiled as of one delighted by the discovery of treasure in a place most unexpected.
“You used the word ‘yet’. Are you hopeful about the situation?”
Gardner’s words echoed through my memory into the forefront of my thoughts: ‘Everything will be okay.’ “Well, I guess I am…I mean, It can’t get any worse right?” I awaited affirmation from her.
“You know, life doesn’t always go as we expect, but I think you’re in a good place. I’m proud of you for the progress you’re making and I’m right here with you,” She squeezed my hands in hers, “hoping that it all works out for the best.”
Her words evoked a smile, the first I had experienced in several days. “Thanks.”
Friend reclined in her seat, crossing her legs with an air of sophistication. “So, what’s next for you and your mom?”
She interjected before I could speak, voicing a thought that seemed to suddenly occur to her. She leaned forward. “Do you call her mom?”
“…I don’t know…I haven’t addressed her directly yet.”
“Okay.” She reclined once more. “Sorry for interrupting. What were you saying?”
“Well, she invited me to her house to spend a day together.”
“When will you be going?”
A flicker of disappointment dashed across her gaze. “Oh.”
“What? Do you think I should have said yes?”
“I don’t know. Do you think you should have said yes?”
“I don’t know…What are we supposed to do all day together? What are we supposed to talk about?”
“Anything you two decide to talk about.”
“You’re saying I made the wrong choice?”
“I’m not saying anything….”
We quietly made eye contact for a minute. “What do you want to say?”
“You can’t keep making progress if you keep building walls.”
“I’m not building walls Friend. I just don’t want to voluntarily spend a very awkward day with a mother that I’ve just met!”
She leaned back pensively for a moment. “Okay. I guess I could see how that might be awkward.”
“Why not think of something else that you two could do together? You’re gonna keep being strangers if you never actually spend time together. What about inviting her to the upcoming art fest?”
“I asked my aunt to invite her to the next Sunday dinner with the family.”
“Oh.” She seemed surprised.
She beamed proudly. “That’s actually a big deal Gracie.”
I suddenly grew uncertain of my choice to invite my mother to Sunday dinner. Once again, I looked to Friend for affirmation. “Is that too intimate?”
She stopped short of passionately leaping to her feet. “Oh no! That’s perfect. I can only imagine what that moment will do for the family. You and your mom… your aunt and your mom…”
The civil gathering I had initially envisioned, was driven out by a premonition of a massacre, where words were used as weapons to avenge past wounds. “Oh god.” I sank deep into my seat.
Friend firmly cupped my knees. “Hey. I wasn’t suggesting anything negative. This is a big deal in a good way…everyone coming together…this could be the thing that–”
“Oh god,” I whispered again as the massacre unfolded in great detail in my wounded imagination.
“Do you want me to come for moral support? When is this dinner?”
“Oh god,” I whispered again in angst.
“Gracie!” Friend sank her fingers into my knees, arresting my focus. “Everything’s gonna be fine. When is dinner?”
I refocused my vision into the reality of the present moment and out of my imagination. I found her reassuring gaze. “It’s tomorrow.”
“Great!” She smiled optimistically. “At what time?”
“You really don’t have to come. I may not even go at this rate.”
“Okay, stop. You’re many things, but you’re not a coward. ‘Screw your courage to the sticking place!’ You’re going to that dinner and if you decide that you want me to come, I’ll be right there with you.”