In the summer of my first year of grad school, I got back in touch with an old friend. Melissa lived barely 20 minutes away, the closest we’d lived to each other in the 10+ years that we’d been friends. In fact, we had lived closer than that for almost a year, if only we’d had modern conveniences like Facebook to tell us such things. But those would come later – at that time, and for the years before, we wrote letters.
I met Melissa at Covenant Harbor in the early years of our adolescence. We connected in the way that you connect when you are 13 and passionately in love with God and the world – while experiencing the first pangs of independence and angst. We were a part of a tightly-knit group that would return to camp every summer until we finished high school, even as our lives diverged in significant ways. But the passion of adolescence rarely lasts, and we drifted apart, until I passed Paxton on the highway one day and thought about dropping Melissa a note.
I wrote to her about my crisis of faith, how far apart my life was from the life I’d imagined, about the end of my first marriage and the relationship that followed. I wrote about my struggle to reconcile the pieces of my life with the faith and the church in which we’d both been raised. I wrote a long letter to a person I hadn’t seen in years, expecting nothing in response.
This is what I will always remember about Melissa: how when we met for lunch one day not too long after, she looked at me and asked, “Who are you to decide who God loves? Who are you to decide that God can’t love you just the way you are?” And I sat across the table from her and cried because I was so wrapped up in myself, in my hurt and shame, that it never occurred to me that I was shutting out exactly the love and acceptance I so desired.
Our lives diverged again in the years since then, though it was easier to stay in loose contact this time around. The last time I saw her was at her wedding a decade ago. She had family in the city, and her son saw doctors at the hospital on my campus, and we talked several times about connecting when she was here, but it never happened, and now it won’t.
There’s been so much loss this year, so many people gone too soon. I suppose that’s always the case, but it hits closer to home every year. Today my heart is with Melissa’s family, with her young son, with all who loved the wonderful person who was so important to me in those brief but crucial moments.