i call it ‘the long ride home,’ the drive after telling Gary good-bye at the airport when he leaves home for a long trip away. On every occasion that he has gone to Costa Rica, Spain, Jamaica, Bosnia, Macedonia, Peru, Afghanistan – each from months to years at a time – his travels are preceded by the uneasy waits at the airport, the forced and somewhat awkward conversations, the last brief, hesitant prayers, the final hug, and then the long ride home. We fight back tears, or don’t, and have little to say for a good while. i would have thought that the experience gets easier with so much practice but it doesn’t.
My dear white-haired Mom and i just said good-bye to Gary, who’ll return to Afghanistan later tonight. (Dad has been in Kenya and won’t be home till tomorrow, a scheduling snafu that saved him from today’s farewell.)
In addition to being my best friend in life and my business partner at the farm, Gary is a mentor and, in many ways, a prophet and priest to me. It is a joy to have him around and to be his neighbor. While he’s been home these past eight months, our occasional travels together – pheasant hunting in South Dakota, touring the gardens of Keukenhof, Holland, and hiking in Montana – have deepened our friendship and have been a pleasant mixture of theology, humor, storytelling, sightseeing, and introspection. All of that to simply say that telling him good-bye is a big deal to me. …
Yesterday, i asked Gary to share some thoughts, maybe a word of challenge, with the Porch Gang men’s group that has met for 9 or 10 years at my house on Thursday mornings. He chose an interesting passage of scripture for doing so, from Ecclesiastes 7:2, “it is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting.” The words, even without Gary’s reflections on them, are quite thought provoking. This week, they were especially poignant to us in light of an accident that took the life of a very popular 16-year-old high school student last weekend. Gary encouraged us to embrace the hurts – big and small – that come in life, reminding us that, among other things, they make clear that the world is broken, that we are small, that there is comfort if we look in the Right Place, and that ‘this ain’t home.’ So, with his words still in my ears, i accept the ‘long ride home’ as one more part of the ‘long ride Home.’ … If you are a praying person, i’d appreciate your prayers for Gary as he lives and works in Afghanistan.
(Incidentally, last summer, when Gary turned 50, i did a short video and song for the event. i’ll have it up on my video in the next few days.)