What Fills the Space after a Goodbye

He wasn’t yet a week when I changed his diaper in the front seat of that Ford Escort and he’d christened his father’s steering wheel with this stream of pale gold.

The Farmer had muttered something about this boy of his being the death of him yet.




I’d chuckled, tucked the falling hair behind the ear, sealed the lumpy diaper and snapped up the buttons of a stetchy green velour sleeper. The Farmer fumbled for napkins in the dashboard. He was twenty-one years old and didn’t look a day over 17. We had kids when we still felt like kids.

The Farmer’d fall asleep in that humid basement apartment with the baby rising and falling on his barechest, his boy slumbering right over where everything in him pounded sure, the moon rising like a promise. There are holy ways that a child grows up a man.

That same milky, sleepless summer, we had red sauce sausages at Harvey and Irma Gingerich’s after the sermon one Sunday and they bent their gray heads over the quilted carrier and said the son looked perfect and I was just mother enough to believe them.

I asked Irma for the recipe for the red sausages. She wrote it down in loops. I have it in the family recipe book, splattered, a favorite, and Irma must be snow white and nearly 90 now.

At the door we’d told Harvey that we were pretty sure Jesus was coming back before this baby turned five or ever read or ever went to school. We could believe being raptured more than thinking time would work on on any of us.

At five, the boy with a cowlick like mine, he bent over an open Bible, fingers clenched tight around a fat, red pencil, and he’d decided all on his own to copy the book of Genesis, whole chapters, letters upside down and backwards, but all on his own, and he couldn’t read a word of it but he smiled like he might bust.

We could only shake our heads, stunned, disoriented. It was happening and to us. When you can feel time working in you, you have to work to breathe.

And in his 17th summer, he finds a steering wheel of his own. He signs the ownership on a 12-year-old car. He tells me he’ll drive safe and he waves and I stand in the lane and time always leaves someone wishing they could even just raise their hand and wave goodbye. He turns south at the mailbox.

I stand there and I can’t seem him for the dust down a back gravel road.

I stand there and he’s already gone and they say that a harvest moon burns orange only because of the dust in the atmosphere, because of the going. And I’m not ready for the harvest already.

I’m not ready for the keys and the backdoor. I’m not ready for 17 and his first day of leaving for school, his first day being his last year of highschool, to get those six credits to apply for university, and I’m not ready for his empty place at lunch time and I’m not ready for any more dust. Mamas should only cry once in a blue moon.

I stand in the lane right after the blue moon and everything brims and I wish there was a just once more.

I wish it had been longer —

or I had been more.









Never look back unless you are going that way, is what Thoreau said.

But sometimes when you look back, just at the top of the hill, before it all slips behind, a memory, that’s when you see how the trees blazed and how you were all living right under the whole, spreading sky, right there under heaven, and you never wholly knew it until right then, till you try to wave your hand goodbye.

Hadn’t we just read it around the table the night before, 2 Corinthians 9, and it was my turn to read aloud when the page inked out these verses, “Remember this:” and my chin trembled. “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly…”

Why didn’t I play more games of Scrabble? Memorize more verses, pray more over his bed, read just one. more. read. aloud? Now there won’t be anymore nature walks and hatching cecropias into giant wings. No more Shakespearean plays and tin-foiled swords and making up ridiculous limericks and carving blocks of wood for Cub Car Races.

And I read truth at the table: “…. and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” All I can think of is harvests already and all this dust and did I break myself generously and did I sow generously and all that you have in the end is what you give away.

One shot.

One clear shot from birth till 18, and it’s not ever really one stroke, but a thousand — well, about 6,570 daily putts — and that is grace and that is all.

Grace has this way of taking back to the Cross what’s been done — but what takes back the things I never did?

Five, it came. 17 came. Time came and school came and leaving came. And Jesus…

It had just come out the year he was born, the board book with the the two long-eared rabbits on it and I don’t know how many times I read it to him, “Guess How Much I Love You.

He’d lay like a hardly warming stone in my arms, small lips hardly open in sleep, hardly warm breath all over me, and I’d read it to him in that closet nursery where I’d painted the round Holstein cows on the walls with that verse rising and rolling, “He owns the cattle on a thousand hills” and the two rabbits, the little one and the big, would up the ante over who loved each other more, higher than one can hop, farther than the moon and back, and wasn’t there a way for love to go further than just to the moon and back?

How in the world can just sending a kid out into the world feel like a launching to the moon?

What’s one small step for a child can be one giant leap for a mother and it’s the truth, the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were the bread and the wine, a man on the moon with his head bowed over the communion elements.

The astronaut’s voice had crackled from the moon, back to earth, the unfathomable miles in between:

“Houston, this is Eagle. This is the LM Pilot speaking. I would like to request a few moments of silence. I would like to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever he may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the past… ”

I can thinking about loving someone to the moon and back and contemplating for a moment the events of the past.

“… to contemplate the events of the past…. and to give thanks.”

Give thanks.

And the man launched from earth had poured the wine into the chalice his elders had given him and in the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine had “curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup.” And before he partook, he had read the words he’d chosen “to indicate our trust…. ”

I am the vine, you are the branches.

Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me”

(John 15:5).

And there’s communion on the moon. There’s time and there’s leaving and there’s Jesus.

There’s love to the moon and back  — and beyond time.

The boy could go anywhere. He could fly. He could settle across the country. The boy could go to the moon. It didn’t matter where he was. Or where I am.

No matter where two people stand on this planet, each can always look up at that moon and there’s communion in space and the love of God fills all of space and Love can’t be measured in miles because love transcends all of time and miles and space. There’s no where you can go that you’ll ever be beyond it — you are loved to the moon and back and as far open as His nail pierced hands stretch and we remain in Him and in this Love Body that knows no bounds.

And I stand there in the lane the day he goes to the school for the first time. I stand there as he drives away. It’s all over and it’s just begun and I can give thanks.  And I can feel it brimming and still lifting —

Grace — it is strong enough to carry even the things never done, the things heaviest of all.

I stand there and the first child drives away and there’s love to the moon and back —

a pursuing grace filling all this space. 




and thanks be to God … more of the endless One Thousand Gifts : 

for every book we ever read loud, every afternoon I said yes to something wild and crazy, every time we laughed loud {#4373}

the hug he gave me this morning {#4374}

the Radical necklace he slipped around his neck this morning {#4375}

little brothers who made cookies for their big brother’s first lunch away {#4376}

the youngest, the little sister who figured out how to get salad dressing in the lunch bag for her oldest brother {#4377}

for the dog-eared copy of “Guess How Much I Love You” {#4378}

the way he polished his shoes this morning {#4379}

#6 on the NYTimes, week #51 (incl. extended). — Giving thanks to God filling all this space {#4380}

That no matter where we are, the Truth holds: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me” (John 15:5). {#4381}

That — Grace — it is strong enough to carry even the things never done, the things heaviest of all. {#4382}


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