Last weekend I drove 900 miles: Houston to Dallas, Dallas to Abilene, Abilene to Dallas, Dallas to Houston. None of that drive is particularly inspiring, mostly just quiet lane passing as semis and other drivers make their way somewhere else. I listened to podcasts while I drove, I listened to music while I drove, I drove in silence as my son (and dog) slept. Mostly, I just wished that I was wherever I needed to be. Does anyone like driving? It just makes my butt hurt. Even the most beautiful of landscapes grow boring once you've looked at them for 3 hours.
But the sky? Well, I'd forgotten about West Texas sky.
Houston has no mountains, so the sky in West Texas and the sky down here on the coast should be the same. But they aren't. West Texas sky seems bigger than sky anywhere else; it stretches on in endless periphery, so high you feel like it will soon tip over and fall upon you. It's the kind of sky that you lay on blankets and watch clouds under; it's sky worth stopping for. In some way, it seems fitting that this will always be the sky over my grandmother's grave.
Whenever I officiate funerals, I always acknowledge absence; usually I say "it is difficult to know how to live in a world where your loved one does not." It has always been true when I said it; I was never glib or dismissive. But it has also been 8 years since I attended the funeral of a family member, so I had forgotten the visceral ache of that absence. This vast world of billions of people is missing someone; I could search the great West Texas sky and never find her again.
How could that be?
When Cliff first went to jail, the pain of his absence was tied to his complicity for his relocation. He SHOULD have been with me, but was elsewhere. Grandma's death is different; her death was "natural", her absence final. My faith informs me that "in the great by and by" we will be reunited in a common resurrection. But the Kingdom to Come is still the Kingdom Not Here, and death does sting. It cuts you wide open so your soul is like the endless horizon of the sky near Abilene.
I was not the only one mourning on Saturday; other families in other places met, mourned and made last goodbyes to their beloved ones. Death was also not the only story on Saturday; other families in other places greeted newborn babies, welcomed in adopted children. Under endless skies all over the world, we made space for new people and marked the absence of others. I know this, the push and pull of existence that spins you from one high to a low without a pause for breath.
I know this.
But as I drove home to kiss my husband and hold my son tightly to me, as I made plans to meet my friend's newborn baby, I drove under the West Texas skies. And at that moment, it seemed barely big enough for my grief.