The Exquisite Ache of Loving

While we were visiting friends in Michigan last weekend, they were saying goodbye to a loved one. We offered to stay away — to not burden them with guest beds and towels and six extra mouths to feed. They insisted we come, to share what they had to give. "We may have to leave for a few hours," said the wife and mother of three. "And we may eat hot dogs," said the husband and father.

I don't want this to come across the wrong way — like taking pleasure in pain — but there is something beautiful about being invited to share in the sorrows of another. I've said before: it's easy to share in the good times — anyone can do that. But vulnerability requires trust, and real empathy is hard work. The intimacy of a family drawing together at the close of a life can be deeply moving, and in this case, the opportunity for us to share these moments and to feel strong and useful, able to listen and to be leaned upon, was a source of great peace and joy to me. Like all hard labor for a good end, the ache I feel for our friends brings with it a little smile — the result of shared and genuine emotion, of loving and being loved.

Does that make sense? I commented to a friend not long ago that genuine emotion seems to be a rare thing. And I know for my part that I am a sponge for it — I'll soak any source 'til I'm dripping (usually from the eyes). Our work-a-day lives too often require cold calculation and compromise, a daily quest for the brightest shade of grey. A splash of color — even the deepest of blues — resonates, and we are grateful.

Thank you, friends, for sharing your lives with us. We love you.

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