Sunday we sang “Jesus, I Come” during the Eucharist, and I couldn’t stop crying. I’m quiet
about crying, but the tears stream, and usually in church I’m holding one or two kids in my lap and often blocked from wiping my face and neck. At a certain point in the song, I felt a hand rest on my right shoulder. Just a hand. Still. I didn’t know whose hand it was. My friend Robin was behind me, but on my left side, and she always has her hands full too.
I let the hand rest there, anonymously. I didn’t want to open my eyes. I felt the gentle pressure through the rest of the set. When the songs were over, I reached across with my left hand, covered the hand on my shoulder, and looked back. I saw Olivia D. there, looking at me with an uncommon depth in her eyes. Liv is 13 years old.
Almost three years ago now—three years in January—I sat on the floor in a living room I didn’t know, in a room full of people I didn’t know. I sat at the foot of a pink wing-backed chair, and in the chair was 10-year-old Olivia D., curled up, moving in and out of tears. Her dad had been found dead the day before in the nature preserve nearby. Liv didn’t know it yet, but he had committed suicide.
The Ds had moved to Birmingham a few months before Albert took his life. I had only begun
getting to know Robin when she texted a group thread—one primarily used for inquiries about where to get a haircut in Birmingham or where to sign kids up for baseball—to say that Albert was missing. He hadn’t shown up for work that day. The day went on, and I grew afraid but also felt like a voyeur, peering into the terribly unfolding, sickening circumstances of a family I didn’t know. I had hardly participated in the group text thread until that day. I had interacted with Robin only a few brief times at church. I didn’t even know the names of Robin and Albert’s nine children yet. Truly: I met these children in their home—as a stranger—the day their dad died.
I got familiar in those days with the Ds’ home, the kids, Robin’s parents. I learned which cabinet the kids’ cups were in, I learned to stick the surplus of groceries being delivered to the house in the downstairs fridge, I learned where to find the twins’ pajamas. I remember standing in the kitchen with this woman, Robin—was she even yet a friend? Who were we to each other at that point?—and saying, “Cancer would have been a mercy.” She quietly agreed.
Sitting at Olivia’s feet, she wrapped in a blanket in that pink wing-backed chair, I listened as she quietly verbalized the swirl and confusion in her mind. I won’t recount her thoughts and
questions here; they were hers, and holy. But being with her in those moments, rubbing her leg gently as she spoke, assuring her of her daddy’s love for her. . .I will never forget it and never understand why I had a place at that table.
Less than eight months later, we found Chris’s cancer. The rest is known history.
What a crazy, sometimes awful, upside-down life, poignant and strange in its comforts.