THREE LINES: MELINDA
I should have stayed with my little sister, only three. But I crossed the street anyway,
leaving her to fend for herself, waiting on the other side. The car just missed her. The
next one threw my best friend, Melinda, into the air. Forever. – September 14, 2016
I have written an eight-part short story about this day. Needing the discipline of telling the same story in fewer words, I wrote a ten-line piece. I liked it.
Needing even more discipline, I decided to try just three lines. It tells the story.
I was six years old, living in a new city, and there was only one girl in my neighborhood to play with. And play we did. In three months, we became fast friends in the sweet ways that little girls do. Life was good, and I was feeling at home in my new place on the earth because of Melinda.
That precious friendship came to a precipitous and terrible end one evening when I was a close-up witness to the screeching of brakes and the vivid sight of a life size rag doll being thrown up into the air, over the back of the green sedan, and onto the pavement behind it. That “rag doll” was Melinda. I didn’t understand. She was my friend and she was hurt. I was pulled away from the scene, but I would never forget it.
She died on the way to the hospital. My life was changed forever, though I didn’t know it yet.
I learned in those grisly days and weeks after, that life is not fair, or predictable, or always happy or salvageable. I did not know until 70 years later how deeply that planted itself in my soul. How it changed the direction that my life would take. And I was only six.
I was 76 when the familiar story came creeping into my memory one morning. This time, it was different. I was awash in sobs that would not stop. Something new appeared this time: I realized for the first time that what unfolded that September evening was my fault.
I was responsible for my sister almost being killed; I was responsible for Melinda’s death. I was supposed to be in charge of our safely crossing the street, and I blew it. Seventy years after that fateful day, remorse showed up. It was finally time to let it in.
Why now? Why did it take so long to open the door wide for this life-altering moment? Why was I ready, on this otherwise inauspicious day, to greet this new guest without fear or caution?
I believe that the work of elderhood is unique. The work is to look back – not to live there, but to remember. It is the poignant and often painful work of coming to terms with who we were, so that we can see who we are yet to be. It is the work of opening closed doors.
Part of the vast work of elderhood is the hard but necessary task of inviting regret and remorse into the present so that we can give birth to the deep forgiveness that is just waiting for us to embrace it.
On that day in 2016, I was finally ready to do the grieving that that little six-year-old had not known how to do. At 76, I could handle it. Even as I sat with the deep, deep sadness of it all and let it wash over me for a while, I could endure it. I could hold that little girl and her unknown guilt gently because she needed craggy old me to tell her that she was forgiven.
And grace showed up.
You know, that wild, unpredictable, profoundly deep, strong, laughing,
endless and unfettered, unconditional thing that is true love.
The presence of that peace that passes all understanding.
It met my sorry heart and took the grief from me at long last.
We know grace when it arrives, whatever we may call it.
Even in the midst of this sad journey, even with the grief that it surfaced, this craggy old woman found herself, in the midst of it, grateful for the life that is now. A life that I can relish as it’s been unfolding bit by bit with every memory that I’ve reached for. And every grace that has come along to carry them.
The more I remember, the more love shows up, even if I have to grieve for a bit.
The more I hold each memory bravely, the more understanding that arrives.
The more I see the whole broad scope of my whole life, the more amazed I am.
There will be more regret and remorse that show up, I suppose. But each one builds on the other, and I grow stronger with each one that brings grace again.
Most people know at least the first verse of the old hymn…the one about amazing grace. You don’t need to have grown up singing it nor to be a Christian to remember even some of the words.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me;
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
Grace brings us home to ourselves. It finds us when we’re lost and brings us back. We know it in our whole body, mind and spirit when it’s arrived. We can feel it. We feel found. We feel whole again.
So many, many people have been the presence of grace in my life. They have been the guides that brought me to this place I call home once again. And I’m very okay with that.