The night before, I threw my books in a bag, ready meet a friend first thing tomorrow. We were going to study; she’s preparing for her professional board exam and I needed to prepare my curriculum for my new classroom. I had come off a difficult weekend and three crazy days at work, and we made these plans after celebratory dinner and bowling with a few other people. These plans were just part of the pace—a pace that’s been driving us for nearly 6 months.
But those plans and that pace were no match for the morning. I woke up and felt as though the weight of my head and limbs had doubled over night. Not even fully awake, my brain ran to sad and frustrated places. Resolving that it was no good facing these thoughts without the comfort of coffee and the Truth of the Word, it was her text message that finally forced me vertical.
“We still on track?” Yes, but I’m slower than expected today.
After two hours, I had only an empty coffee pot to show for myself. No writing. Couldn’t tell you what I read. No shower, and still a pair of gave-up-on-life pants.
My friend has the curtains closed and she’s laying on the couch, book on her knees. She swats the pages from one side to the other. She writes a few things down and checks her phone—for the eleventh time in an hour.
“I don’t understand this stuff. I don’t care about this stuff. I’ll never know everything in time.”
She gets up and returns with some Ben and Jerry’s, dons her headphones, puts her hood up, and goes back to swatting pages.
I try reading but mostly just stare. I count the number of times the dog barks next door.
An hour of this and give up and break for lunch.
“I just don’t understand what’s the matter with me,” she says. “Why am I in this mood? I have no reason to be.” She’s still got the ice cream, gesturing her misery by dragging the spoon through the air.
I think this is so strange; out of the two of us, I usually do the trudging. I am the one who has the unexplainable, sad moods. My glasses are always half empty and she’s usually the one topping them off.
That’s why I went there in the first place.
Before I had even gotten out of bed, I was already crawling in a hole; I was sure her typical, obnoxiously cheerful self would be the thing that pulled me out. It usually does.
By the time she blew off going for a run, refused a salad, and suggested we stay indoors doing art projects (no joke)–notorious symptoms of my own foul moods–it became clear that one of us needed to get it together. It wasn’t going to be her.
I made a plan for us: I need adventure and beauty, she needs to vanquish something. She isn’t happy unless there is something to slay. I need out of my own head. So we get a study plan and decide when she meets the goal we’ll go watch a sunset.
That should fix it.
Headed for the coast, we pulled out every antidote we knew: cute clothes, mascara, lipgloss, coffee, a good playlist, plan for dinner…
But when we got there, beholding the splendor of the Pacific Ocean, the headlands, the Golden Gate, the sailboats, we both found ourselves miserable with welling tears. Both of us.
No stranger to this place, I made room for us to stay in it for a while.
Being no stranger to this place meant I could also see that these were symptoms of grief.
We were grieving.
The sun drooped low. The gold rays lit the powder of foam as the waves slammed the cliff wall. A sea lion flipped in the surf.
Facing more beauty than we could stand, we let go. Tears ran freely as we stood together and named all that entering this exciting new season forced us to leave behind.
Me, the safe harbor of my old job. Her, life as a soccer player. Me, A powerful relationship–and all the hope, communion, and adventure that came with it. Her, the end of College. Us, Constant quality time together afforded by the student life. The simplicity of the way things were. Who we missed that we couldn’t keep…
And so it went.
Another pair of hikers came by and commented that the beauty of the Bay Area is that wherever you are, you can see where you were. Visiting from Southern California, they had covered a lot of ground that day. He pointed out the bridge and buildings in both the City and Berkeley where he had been just hours before. We pointed to the steep, winding road that had brought us here.
But it had taken the whole day to bring us here. This sunset was the culmination of work God had been doing in us all day long.
It was like we had been held under water in that apartment, all morning and afternoon, and we were finally able to come up for air.
This sunset place is special to us because we found it the day our best friend was baptized. On the day of her baptism, we grabbed lattes, found our way down that path, just in time to see the sun crash into the ocean. A spectacular display of color and sisterhood, we toasted to the glory of God.
We found our way back to that place, this time baptized by tears. And we didn’t stand in that river alone. We had each other.
Sometimes the work of the day is mourning. And the extravagance of God lets us do it together, beholding His glory.