by Chris Canniff
I had lunch with a friend recently. I first met her in October of freshman year, and throughout that year and continuing into sophomore year, we became friends, getting together often with each other and with our many mutual friends. Then junior year came along and, as any upperclassman will affirm, you can often feel disconnected from your friends as a junior. A small portion live on campus, most live off campus, and many study abroad (some for both semesters). As for myself and this particular friend, I lived on campus, and she lived off campus; I was here for the entire year, and she went abroad in the spring. Now, senior year has been flying by as both of us have so many time-consuming commitments of all sorts, both academic and social. It was nice to be able to reconnect.
There is something so joyful about sitting down with an old friend whom you haven’t seen for a while; you get to experience anew all of the unique things about them that brought about your friendship in the first place. With her, something special that immediately showed itself again was her ability to simply be present with the other person. For most of us, we feel awkward unless we fill the air with lots of chatter even if it’s meaningless. She, however, sees no awkwardness in a long silence. When one comes, rather than fumbling for words or averting her eyes, she just looks directly at you and smiles very genuinely. There’s something comforting in the smile; what would ordinarily be awkward is, rather, incredibly reassuring.
I came across a somber line when reading a book a few months ago: “Time passed and passed. It did strange things. It swept people away.” As graduation looms ever closer for myself and my peers, this line has been lingering in my mind. We so often take the meaningful and intimate qualities of our friends and loved ones for granted, that is, until they are gone. With this friend, I was fortunate enough to see one such quality again, but aren’t some goodbyes final? Aren’t some losses permanent? Time seems to tend toward the passing away of all things.
This sense of loss will make itself more apparent in the months ahead, and all throughout life it will be encountered. Loved ones will die, friendships may falter, relationships may crumble. When a grandparent departs this life, there is so much grief. When a friend harms you with their words and actions, or even just drifts away due to circumstance, there is so much hurt. When one you love or are just beginning to love rejects you, there is so much pain. In these moments, certain questions come to our mind. We rage against God. Why would you take my close family members from me? Why would you let my friend grow cold or simply forget me? Why would you reveal to me an unsurpassed and deeply abiding beauty in another person and not allow romance to flourish? The sense of loss, particularly the loss of love, seems ubiquitous.
In looking for an answer to these questions, I am often at a loss for words. The virtues might be the best key for understanding. According to our faith, we may hope that the love is not actually lost forever. At least in the case of friends and lovers, although not in the case of the deceased, there is in this life the possibility of some growth back toward the relationship that was once possessed; in some cases, perhaps an even deeper relationship could be obtained, the difficulties of loss having been endured. Sadly, in this vale of tears, though, this is not always how things turn out, but this does not mean that the union of love is necessarily broken forever. Rather, it might instead be extended, however painfully, across the boundary between this life and the next, until we are one day reunited in paradise.
To get there, we must never stop loving God, for if we choose to stop loving Him, all loss will be made permanent – this is the doctrine of Hell, the only true and final loss. However, if we persist in loving Him, our union with Him and with all others whom we love will ultimately be made into endless joy – this is the doctrine of Heaven. The longing that we feel in the face of life’s losses is a longing for this joy, a longing for communion with all in the divine life. To be reunited this way in love is similar to that joy of reuniting with a friend which I spoke of up above, but it is of an infinitely greater degree; it is the truest and deepest rediscovery of that love that once was.
During the long “silences” of loss, God is not fumbling around or averting His gaze from us; instead, He smiles at us as my friend does. Look for that smile as a source of reassuring comfort until we return to the Word. For, in time, love may seem lost; it may seem to pass away. But in eternity, love is, in fact, all that remains, and it is everlasting.