Eight Minutes of Friendship
David R. Weiss – May 9, 2017
I met Sue in 2014 when she was already 80 years old. The first time I delivered groceries to her in her apartment in a subsidized senior hi-rise she commented about an article in the latest issue of The Nation. I was hooked.
Over the next two years I delivered her groceries once or twice a month. We soon discovered we both followed politics, both supported unions (in fact, we’d both worked to organize unions although in quite different eras), both felt passion for social justice, both had idiosyncratic but deep spiritual leanings. We both wrote poetry and essays, and eventually we traded a few of our pieces back and forth.
That’s how came to know each other … about eight minutes at a time. Which was about how long it took me to unload her groceries, help her put the cold items away, and settle up the bill. I suspect we did that thirty-some times over the next two years, until last July when my route was changed.
The last time I saw Sue was at an adult forum I presented at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church on Sexual Ethics in September 2016. She lived in the Trinity apartments right next to the church and so had made Holy Trinity her church home as well. She was moving slowly but beaming from the back of the room that day.
Afterwards she sent me a handwritten thank you for my presentation and a copy of her latest writing: an essay in which she argued against using third-person plural pronouns (they/them) as gender-neutral singular pronouns (either for God or for individual persons). Such a move violated her profound sense of language, where aesthetics and grammar blend seamlessly. Instead, she posed her own set of gender-neutral pronouns.
Motivated in part by the memory of a high school friend who committed suicide some six decades earlier because of anguish over a mismatch in gender, here was Sue at 82 still stretching her mind to stretch the English language to stretch our world in the direction of justice. Her mind was as exacting as her heart was generous as her spirit was deep.
She died Friday morning following complications from a cancer surgery. Roberta, a close friend of Sue who happened to know me as well, notified me of Sue’s death. When she was helping the family sort through Sue’s apartment she found an envelope where Sue had collected all the various writings I had shared with her. And the list of relatives and longtime friends scattered far and wide who should be notified on her death. My name was on that list.
I wept as I read Roberta’s message. Less for grief at Sue’s passing than for grace. Mostly, we have NO IDEA the lives we touch. Sure, sometimes we sense it indistinctly, but truly we don’t fully reckon the grace that escapes us when we’re not looking. When we’re simply being. Present. And somehow God settles into those gaps of real presence between us and weaves silken threads strong enough to anchor the cosmos.
Tomorrow I expect I’ll have just enough time after I clock out from my Tuesday deliveries to make it to Sue’s memorial service. I’ll still be wearing my work uniform, making one last delivery: this time bringing my final respects.
I understand we’ll be singing one of Sue’s poems set to a familiar hymn tune. I’ll do my best to sing along, but—even though we only ever shared eight minutes of friendship—I expect I’ll be bawling with emotion. I wouldn’t want it any other way.