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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

friendship, funerals, & the bus people ~

Today is my friend Carol’s memorial service. It will be held in the chapel where I was married, on the campus where Carol, her husband , and most of my family — including my husband & I — went to college. Somehow, that comforts me a bit.

Because our lives didn’t really overlap much, mine &  Carol’s. We met on the bus, commuting back & forth to our work lives, more than an hour’s bus trip from home. My friends & family know her, still, as ‘Bus Carol,’ to distinguish her from Boss Carol & Aunt Carol.

For years, Carol & I sat next to each other on the bus, trading the stories women weave their friendships from: bright & dark threads alike, a few glittering ones of great beauty every now & then. The story of her older sister’s death, the story of my mother’s Alzheimer’s. The happy adoption of her niece & nephew,  the marriage of my elder son. Carol’s older brother lives in Portland, where my two sons live; she knew where the wedding venue was, down in the Pearl.

From these bits & pieces of our lives we spun the web that connected us, our families. Once my husband & I ran into Carol & her husband at a restaurant we both frequented. But it was the only time we saw them there. Our lives were like that: connected, really, by the bus trip. Twice a day. Six times a week, for years. Sitting next to each other. Weaving…

The bus people are their own family. We grew close to each other, the regulars, sitting at the front, teasing Jerry the driver. But Carol was more than one of the bus people to me.It was Carol who talked me in to bringing my new puppy on the bus. It was Carol who held him. It was Carol who brought me goofy erasers for my pencils, and a basket of books when I had an operation.

When her voice turned raspy, we thought it was asthma. That was the first diagnosis she received. I told her of my husband, of my son, both managing their asthma. She was fluent in medical, from her research as a professional dietician, and knew asthma wasn’t a death sentence. It wasn’t long, however, before another, far more frightening diagnosis came: ALS. Lou Gehrig’s disease. We had one more semester, together on the bus.

The Buddhist in me knows that life is impermanence. I’ve done the contemplation on death — more than once. And I have lost people I love: both my parents, the elders of my life. But to lose a peer, a beloved friend, is very hard. Carol was younger than I am, and that seems so unjust. She was smart, talented, so very funny & dear. Her family has been riven by tragedy so many other times, that her death seems even more undeserved. Not that death is rational. But this one? It strikes at something deep within me.

Whatever there is after death, it doesn’t let me see my dear friend, or hear her, or trade jokes and stories with her. It isn’t a veil I can lift to carry out the many plans we thought we had time for: a trip to Guthrie to see a beekeeper, lunch together in Portland, tea. The only tea we shared was just after she heard her diagnosis. It was not a happy afternoon. I held her hands and listened.

I would listen gladly now. I wouldn’t interrupt. I would hug you and hold your hands and be grateful for just one more bus trip. Together.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment carolyn haley

    I knew Carol in our middle school years. the awkward and difficult years of growing up. I have such fond memories of her. she is one of few people that I ever could connect with in school and even though we grew apart she was the one who initiated the facebook connection. she’s that kind of person. I feel very fortunate that our paths crossed as many times as they did and will always cherish the memories I have of the very fine soul that was Carol. I’m thankful I was blessed to know her.

    • Britton Gildersleeve

      I feel the same way, Carolyn. Very glad we became friends ~

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Linda Moore

    So beautiful Britton. I love being able to see her through your eyes.

    • Britton Gildersleeve

      Linda, she was an amazing person. I found it so fitting that everyone who spoke at the memorial service mentioned her great smile, her laugh, her stories. She was very dear to me, and I’m as sorry as imaginable at her loss….

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