Months ago, I began reading Henri Nouwen's book, The Genessee Diary.
It is his published journal from inside a Trappist Monastery; he felt his life had become too mechanized, too secure, too predictable, too busy, too much writing about prayer instead of actually praying, too much thinking about theology and not actually worshipping, so he stepped away for a season. He became a monk. And he wrote about what this was like, what he learned.
In an ironic turn of the pages, he finished his seven months in the monastery just as I am finishing my first year as a widow. Both he and I had sidestepped our lives as we knew them, reluctantly embraced a new season, and now together we embark on the end of the year.
(Never mind that he took his journey in 1981. When I read your writing, your story becomes my present day.)
Henri, as I like to call him since we are now dear friends, wrote in his journal:
"I will have to ask myself what these months have meant to me. I am still in it, but I see the end and the slow moving away to new experiences."
I set down the book with pause. The same is true of me. What has this year meant to me? I am still in it, but I see the end. And I see the turn of 2012 bringing new experiences.
I want to say I have learned nothing. I want to say Robb's death was without meaning, these months have been empty, and I am bitter and angry because I got screwed hard out of everything I had planned for the rest of my life. I want to say these things, boldly, with the strength that only comes from vindication.
But those things are not true. I have learned much; these months have been sacred. I have long said, if I will tell this story, I will tell the truth.
So, here are my thoughts.
I have lived an entire year of winter. There were sunny days that peeked through on occasion, but my heart stayed cold, bundled, protected. Still, there are things to enjoy only in winter: good books, shorter days, enveloping blankets, and isolation. I have relished in these.
In January, when I began speaking to God again, I made a deal with him: if he would just get me out of bed and safely to Starbucks, I would visit with him there. I might not talk, but I would listen. My mornings have been my sacred hours. Starbucks has been my sanctuary.
God has met me there. My journals are filled with schizophrenic psalms, from temper tantrums to triumphant praise. His companionship has been nearly tangible, certainly a presence I could feel strongly enough to know I wanted more. In reading the Psalms, again and again, and again and again, I have let the psalmists cry out on my behalf, when I had no words left.
There's a reason why Psalm 88 made the cut into the final manuscript.
I have learned that there's no one way to be a perfect mother. But there are a million ways to be a good one. And, with God as my witness, his grace as my strength, I have been a damn good mother this year.
I have been willing to learn this year. I have trudged ahead with my eyes open, insistent that this wrenching pain would not be wasted. I have written a million words, unafraid of anything that might show up on the page. I have found honesty and the beauty of saying things out loud.
A friend of Robb's recently wrote to me. He said, "Tricia, when Robb talked about you, he always said you were an amazing woman who could handle anything." My precious husband... he knew me well. I never imagined the strength inside this frame.
I have learned firsthand that love is greater, stronger than the grave. No matter what happens next, no matter the path I take or who walks beside me, I will forever love Robb Williford.
This year has been the closing chapter of our marriage: I honored him, even after death parted us.
I choose to borrow some words from Henri, because great words should be shared, and because I can't say it better.
"For me, this is the end of a most blessed and graceful retreat and the beginning of a new life. A step out of silence into the many sounds of the world, out of the cloister into the unkept garden without hedges or boundaries. In many ways, I feel as though I have received a small, vulnerable child in my arms and have been asked to carry him with me out of the intimacy of [this place and] into a world waiting for light to come.
Why was I here? I don't know fully yet. Probably I will not know fully before the end of the cycle of my life. Still, I can say that I have a most precius memory which keeps unfolding itself in all that I do or plan to do. I no longer can live without being reminded of the glimpse of God's graciousness that I saw in my solitude, of the ray of light that broke through my darkness, of the gentle voice that spoke in my silence, and of the soft breeze that touched me in my stillest hour."
Thank you, Henri. You write my heart.
Thank you, Robb. You hold my heart.
Thank you, God. You heal my heart.
And so, it has been a year.