The big blue house on Indian Lake Trail was for sale.
Five bedrooms, a perfect view of the west shores of Lake Michigan and an open living area full of furniture from a 2007 Restoration Hardware catalog weren’t enough to hold together the bonds of holy matrimony. While the unhappy couple waited for the three-story home to sell, they rented it out to my friend.
It’s Wednesday evening, and the sun is slowly turning the sky the color of a mimosa. I drove two hours north from my own blue house to visit my friend and his family, spending half a day clumsily paddling the White River in a flimsy orange kayak and achieving a splotchy sunburn my friend’s daughter—who is sitting next to me as I write—comments on by saying, “Whoa. That looks weird.”
For three months last year, I lived in California, only a few miles from the beach. As I walk down the beach barefoot in Michigan on this Wednesday, the way the sand falls into the crevices between my toes reminds me of my beach crawls on the West Coast, each minuscule grain smoothed by centuries of water, slowly and inefficiently.
The waves are pulled from the middle of the water, seemingly created from nothing and growing as they roll toward my feet. They are loud and threatening, hissing as if to pull me back with them, only to acquiesce by the time they hit my ankles and create a welcoming carpet of foam and wet sand beneath my feet. The rhythm hypnotizes me, and without much recollection, I find myself sitting in a wooden chair staring westward, probably toward a farm in remote Wisconsin, 200 miles across the lake.
An expression and wise charge from a note Rilke penned in Letters to a Young Poet enters my mind: “Draw close to those things that will not ever leave you.” No words could better describe the universality of relationships, of sand, of water, of sun, and of orange skies giving way to the moon and stars. Geography has nothing to do with the inherent consistent nature of them. They simply do not change; they simply do not leave.
When life was very dark, when people disappeared, and when by all appearances God had left too, I desperately searched for Him. Literally. After not finding Him on miles of interstate or through loud music and the wind that messed up my hair with my car windows down, I pulled over. Miles from home, I found a quiet park hidden under the branches of grandfatherly silver maples and shortleaf pines. After hours of traversing the mulched paths, sending God rapid-fire telepathic messages and perhaps even some reasonable demands, the silence of nature only crescendoed, and it felt as if everything had left. I had done all I could to draw near, and with each step, those things that will not ever leave were even more out of reach. Would they ever return?
My concern was valid. I stared, parched and lonely, into the faded and falling leaves, needing to be held, to be reminded. I rested on a bench and prayed the Earth would take me and embrace me as her own, but the only thing I felt was the splintered wood of the bench supporting me.
As dusk softened the sunset, I got up from the bench and continued on the trail, not oblivious to the beauty around me. But I was anesthetized to it, maybe even jealous of the communion between the sky and its reflection in the lake, the songs of the animals, and the family of trees with their interwoven branches.
With a weary but resilient soul, I convinced myself I would not give up.
Weeks passed—36 of them, to be precise. There were days I broke my promise and gave up. I lost faith. The concept of those things that will not ever leave seemed like a contemplative opiate written to comfort the lost with false hope. I cursed God. I was penitent. I set up confession with a Catholic priest in a town where nobody knew me and begged him to give me some way to earn back grace. I am not even Catholic.
It was without warning when I realized those things that will not ever leave actually never left. Driving home from the big blue house on Indian Lake Trail with my sunburn and sore triceps, the half-moon reminds me of this.
During the day, the stars never leave, and throughout the night, the sun remains. The emptiness I felt for so long was merely my soul in rotation, much like the Earth on its axis. I will experience seasons of new moons, where life is full and bright and spectacular and perhaps causes a person or two to stop and see the light that is coming from inside of me by no action of my own will. There will also be periods where the night sky is wholly black and starless, and over time, one by one, stars will reappear and bring their luster and hope.
I will draw close. That is my promise. I will draw close to the most brilliant light and not shy away from the most ominous darkness. I will draw close to the rhythms of the tides and of existence and to the bread and the wine. I will draw close to the ones who carry and breathe life and the ones who resist and cause harm. I will draw close to the things that will not ever leave me, and as I walk, I will remember that I will never be alone.