Tell her you love her


I never thought I’d have so much in common with a fictional 12 year-old boy in small-town Illinois in 1928. Dandelion Wine ranks in my top three favorite books, ever since I discovered it six years ago in a library in England on a perfect sunshiny day and read it all at once under a tree by the Roman ruins in the museum gardens next to the River Ouse. And I’ve read it every summer since.


I like to think Douglas and I are kindred spirits. Along with his brother Tom, he spends his summer months soaking in the glory of childhood freedom and endless days. And as I entered their world once again this summer, it was Doug and Tom’s friendship with a fellow neighborhood boy that struck me as particularly poignant, that warmed and wrung my heart all at once.


The facts about John Huff aged twelve, are simple and soon stated. He could pathfind more trails than any Choctaw or Cherokee since time began, could leap from the sky like a chimpanzee from a vine, could live underwater two minutes and slide fifty yards downstream from where you last saw him. The baseballs you pitched him he hit in the apple trees, knocking down harvests. He could jump six-foot orchard walls, swing up branches faster and come down, fat with peaches, quicker than anyone else in the gang. He ran laughing. He sat easy. He was not a bully. He was kind. His hair was dark and curly and his teeth were white as cream. He remembered the words to all the cowboy songs and would teach you if you asked. He knew the names of all the wild flowers and when the moon would rise and set and when the tides came in or out. He was, in fact, the only god living in the whole of Green Town, Illinois, during the twentieth century that Douglas Spaulding knew of.


I love that they think the world of him. I love that this peer of theirs inspires such awe, and brotherly affection, and desire for imitation. I love the little character traits of his that, seemingly inane, are in fact the cause of solemn respect. And I love (and hate) to see what happens when that fateful day comes—when John Huff moves away. Try as he might to hold John hostage with his strategic game of statues, Doug still has to watch his friend run home to catch the train to Milwaukee, never to be seen again.


You see, my dear friend is moving away this summer, too.


The facts about Margaret Anne are simple and soon stated. She lights up a room with her joy and delight. She makes friends wherever she goes, from bakery counters to street corners. She calls me “darling” and “dearest” and “mi amor.” She shows up on my stoop every Monday evening for small group, beaming and ready to throw her arms around my neck. She comes bringing goodies, like lemonade and figs and crackers with cheese. She rocks a pixie cut like no one else I’ve seen. She listens to the suffering with an open heart, jumps in with a consoling word, asks to pray right then and there. Her life is a marvelous unfolding story of redemption. She speaks always of the mercy of God. She’s detached from the things of this world. She comes alive in nature. She is, in fact, one of the very best sisters and companions and friends I have known, and likely will ever know.


And, in two days, she’s moving away.


While my heart aches at this fact, while I’ve shed tears and selfishly wished it wasn’t so, there’s a calm and a peace and a joy in her leaving. For one thing, I know her departure is a truly prayerful one, a following of God’s will, a loss of one home in favor of closeness to family. There’s goodness in it all. And what’s more, we have long told each other I love you.


I remember it startled me at first. Those words aren’t ones to casually throw around. They’re ones I often reserve for writing in birthday cards or uttering when a friend is sorely in need of comfort or saying at the end of a phone call to my mom. Of course I love my friends, but how often do I tell them? How often do I say those words aloud? Well, with Margaret Anne, it’s every time I see her. I’ve followed her lead, watching her express her love, not shying away or wasting a minute or fearing the vulnerability that comes with making a gift of herself, of expressing her affection. I know, by the way she lives, that life is precious, that each day and hour and moment is precious, and that it is wholly possible to “live the present moment, filling it to the brim with love,” as Pope Francis says.


Margaret Anne knows that I think the world of her. By bestowing great love upon me first, she has inspired in me a return of that love, a welling up and spilling over of sisterly affection. And while my heart mourns the approaching distance between us, I know that we have lived our time together wholeheartedly, touching heaven and tasting eternity and discovering beauty before unseen. I’ll watch her go, my heart warmed and wrung, with a deep thankfulness for her friendship and an ache to meet again.


Margaret Anne, my dearest, darling friend, I love you so.


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