I only knew you with hair for a little while.
You told me a story about wind and a crosswalk and an errant wig that fell off in front of some poor soul. I still laugh about that one. You were sure you frightened him. You told me about a little boy who was surprised the first day you greeted him while bald. You told me about coming in headwraps and the cost of a wig and how to sew seven layers of hair to a jean cap just so. And then you put a glittering pin on it, because of course you did. I wished I had your bravery. I wondered if you were afraid of those who didn’t know, with that seamless little gap between your own blonde strands and the manufactured ones. I wondered how you would do this summer with that hot wig and that untiring smile. I imagined what your house looked like, with a wig stand by the door. And then I did see it and smiled and saw your real hair again, gray this time, and I couldn’t tell you that I was glad I got to see the faceless heads by the door and the crown of splendor that was yours.
I wonder what your hair looks like in Heaven. Is it ye old faithful blonde or the brunette I saw in pictures? Is it long enough for braids and ponytails and French twists and is it a gift that makes you laugh instead of cry?
I only ever knew you as a divorcée.
You kept that one close for a while, until it came out in our hundred days of conversation. You told me of faithful friends and favor on other floors and those who supported your work. You never said how terribly hard it was or how manifold were the sorrows of that season. You told me of singing tours and the always that he was and the leading of the Lord and prayers at night. And then you said, with wistfulness, that you had received the joy of the Lord and His sorrow, too. I wished I had your forgiveness. I wondered why you didn’t begin again and bit my tongue at my asking and you never spoke of those years as anything but delight. I wondered how you managed to see the gifts without their poisoned ending. And then I learned of your kindness and honesty and your choice again and again to stride in faithfulness when you were surrounded by unfaithfulness.
I wonder what it is to drink of His faithfulness now. Do you know the ways you spoke of Him without words? Do you see everything He is now and is it more heartbreakingly certain than anything or anyone you ever knew?
I only ever knew you as a boss.
You interviewed me on the suggestion of another. I don’t remember what we said, only that your laugh was loud and quick. Your laugh was everywhere, even when it wasn’t. Or wasn’t supposed to be. I would peek in your office and you would turn around and look up and put down and never said never. You were always a boss and always the boss and somehow in the questions and moments and tears you became more than that. I wished I had your wisdom. I didn’t know how to trust you until your truthfulness became normal and I realized that I had already begun to somewhere among those hours. I wondered how you did it and you never said something other than what it was. I wondered how they felt and you never hid the hurts. I asked how you were and you told me the good and the bad because that was the truth. I had lived with a gap of personhood and maybe you never knew the ways you gave until I realized that it hurt less than it had before. I listened when you said asking was normal and I stopped when you were surprised at my stubbornness and I hurt when your gentleness responded because I had not expected you to care.
I wonder what your honesty looks like now. Are you friend and mother and sister wrapped in bright colors there, too, still giving and caring and welcoming end upon end? Are you wholly daughter and bride and saint in ways that have swallowed the imperfections now and made them new?
I only ever knew you with cancer.
You didn’t tell me that. And then I asked and then you did and I wondered why you hadn’t, but it wasn’t a big deal. Or so you said. You never said it was a big deal while it knuckled at your spine and stripped your hair and slept in your organs and filled your lungs. You never said when it hurt or when it was too much. You closed your door and napped with a blanket and said it was a cold and said it was a new thing and it was always new as your thyroid sputtered and your hands swelled and somehow you still wore rings and heels and the perfect earrings for that necklace. I wished I had your perseverance. I asked you why, once. I shouldn’t have, but you let me, as you always did with my questions when I had no one else I trusted to ask. I asked and you answered and said of course. You said of course you would, day after day, for you had children to love and grandbabies to hold and the Lord had walked you this far for this long and getting up to face each day was in your bones, no matter how fragile they became. You had a basket of yarn waiting and a trip to Mexico to make and someday you were going to return to India and of course you were going to keep going. I didn’t know if you knew how long I had yearned to ask that question and hear that answer and know that there was life to yet live in these decaying bodies.
I wonder if you are different without cancer. If your joy was already bright with laughter and draped in a sari with golden shoes, are you now glittering beyond belief? If I could sit here and listen for the laughter of your presence, does it echo across all of Heaven now that you have His breath?
I only ever knew you in slices of time here, ones that are precious and marked and full of the golden hue of fellowship. I only ever knew you between office doors and pieces of paper and the borders of what we were supposed to be doing. I only ever knew you as the woman who hired me twice and loved me a dozen times over. But I will know you again, in the fullness of time, full of precious delight and the golden hue of the New Jerusalem. And I will know you in a place beyond borders and full of feasting and we will both be in bodies that carry no expiration date. And I will hug you when you do not feel like paper and tell you one more time how dearly I love you and it will not be for the last time. And it will be good, as He is.