Over the next two months, I have many joyful, heart-breaking good-byes to share with friends I know and love and deeply. But I owe you a word, too. As I prepare to leave this wonderful, broken city and all its wonderful, broken people, I can't stop thinking about those of you who might have been my friends.
I say "might have been" without acrimony; I only mean that by chance or choice, we never knew one another well. Perhaps we took a class together, sitting across the room and smiling at one another when our eyes met. We admired each other's comments, but we were never in class together again.
Maybe we have gone to church together. We spent a long night laughing together at the women's retreat three years ago, and we still greet one another from across the sanctuary. I've kept your children in the nursery, loving the games and graces you have taught them.
In other days, in other circumstances, we might have been friends. Had we been undergrads together, had we lived within walking distance, had we made more time, had we kept that coffee date, we might have been friends.
And yet, despite my tone of might-have-been, regret is not my theme. I have not lacked friends, and I could not have invested so deeply and well in many more people. Nor did you lack company; I took joy in the circle of love and society that seemed to gather around you. It isn't regret that prompts this letter, but gratitude. We may have only touched the margins of one another's lives, but there was grace in that touch, as when strangers hold hands for prayer before a meal.
In my small way, I have loved you. You have carried the "lantern out of doors" that Gerard Manley Hopkins describes. Sitting at a window, the speaker of his poem watches lights move through the darkness:
Sometimes a lantern moves along the night,
That interests our eyes. And who goes there?
I think; where from and bound, I wonder, where,
With, all down darkness wide, his wading light?
These lanterns, he sees, are carried by people God has made beautiful. The speaker cannot call them by name, but he sees how they challenge the darkness and tedium of the despairing world:
Men go by me whom either beauty bright
In mould or mind or what not else makes rare:
They rain against our much-thick and marsh air
Rich beams, till death or distance buys them quite.
And then, just as quickly as their light appeared through the darkness, they are gone.
Death or distance soon consumes them: wind
What most I may eye after, be in at the end
I cannot, and out of sight is out of mind.
Christ minds: Christ’s interest, what to avow or amend
There, éyes them, heart wánts, care haúnts, foot fóllows kínd,
Their ránsom, théir rescue, ánd first, fást, last friénd.
I share this hope: that you are not lost to me. Our friendship, small and slight as it was here, has been hidden in Christ, the "first, fást, last friénd" of us both. Thank you for letting your lantern flash through the windows of my busy days. When the light fell upon me, I blessed it.
Lantern, "Aquaria Vattenmuseum", Stockholm, by m.prinkle