I stand in the kitchen, my favorite red shoes in hand, they are same ones that are in the picture at the top of this site, the shoes I wore when I took my wedding vows, the shoes that have become my celebratory shoes. I look at these shoes, heels caked in dried red Georgia clay and I try to clean them. It is only the urgency of needing to wear them soon, a family wedding, that brings me to this moment. As I strip away the stray blades of grass dried deeply into the clay and mud, I wonder, how did these get so dirty? And then I remember. I remember standing in the wet grass of the churchyard burial plot. I remember my beloved leading us in the final prayers. I remember the heels of my red shoes sinking, sinking, sinking into the wet clay and grass ground, near him, though, certainly, not with him. I remember one shovel of clay dirt and another, filling in the small patch of earth made hollow to make room for what remains of him. I remember the tear-stained faces of people I love more than my words will allow me to write. I think of how much he loved us all, but especially the four of us–his wife, his son and his daughters. We huddle together, perhaps, then go inside where there will be toasts and food and small talk. People tell me meaningful and important things. Maybe I will remember a few of these gifts. I see the face of one of my parishioners, Ron, who has made the long journey from Dunwoody to Athens, and I am so struck that he has done this for me. I know that his face will forever be for me a reminder of what unexpected, undeserved kindness and love looks like. I will remember him when I next wonder if I really have time to go to that funeral.
I return to my shoes. They are clean, if not new. They will do. He would appreciate the frugal nature of my salvage. He would laugh at my toenails painted a deep shade of green. He would smile and tell me how proud he is, and how very much he loves me, loves us. One year later. Much has changed, but this has not: I miss him. I miss his voice. I miss his laugh. I miss his dramatic and fiery side, that expressive face, and those eyebrows ever in motion. I miss arguing with him about God and humanity and what it all means.
In the end, it’s all about love. That fierce, irrational, holy gift that is wired into each of us from the moment we begin, that spark of God that makes us wholly and complicatedly human. It’s that love that lets us hurt so damn much. Without it, of course, we would be lost, broken and utterly impoverished. And so we walk on, mud on our best shoes, broken hearts, joyfully and forever grateful for what made them break.