Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel used to perform a quiet, poignant song called “Kathy’s Song.” Perhaps you’ve heard it, as it was very well known and appeared on their greatest hits album.
Paul Simon wrote another song, a song called “America” in 1968. Kathy shows up in that song, too. So in my head, it’s really the song that should have been called “Kathy’s Song.” The singer tells the story of how he and Kathy boarded a Greyhound and went out on the road, in search of America, of something nameless and abstract and missing.
Remember these lines?
“Kathy, I’m lost,” I said, though I knew she was sleeping / “I’m empty and aching, and I don’t know why.”
I think of that song ever year in August. My friend Kathy died one ordinary night in August, ten years ago. I wrote about it on my family blog if you’re interested in reading the story, what I know of it.
My life has gone on since her death. Obviously, it has. Ten years after her husband and mother made the gut-wrenching decision to withdraw the life support machines, I am ten years older. I have two children, a career as a writer. I’m an elder at my church, serving on its session. I pack lunchboxes each evening before collapsing into bed and hoping that no one throws up all over the floor in the middle of the night. I worry about how much those home repairs are going to cost, if we’re paying the right amount on our estimated quarterly tax payments, if the boys are going to need bigger shoes again soon, where we’ll send our second grader to middle school in a few years.
Kathy never lived to see the age of 30. She never saw her only child crawl or walk or run. She never heard him say “Mama” or “I love you” or “I hate you.” She joked about how all she wanted out of life was to be a tennis mom, and she never even got the chance to do that.
Every so often, I realize that no, she’s really never coming back. Never. And it hurts all over again. It does. She’s not on an extended vacation. We didn’t grow apart, biding our time ’til we can plan a reunion. She didn’t move away.
She. Is. Gone. She has been gone. She is gone. She will forever be gone. As long as I am on this earth, she is gone.
My friend Lena once talked about “thin places,” where the distance between heaven and earth was compressed, where you can almost sense who is on the other side. She lost a son shortly before his birth, and there are places and times when she says she can sense him. Those thin places. Those elusive, hoped-for thin places.
Sometimes I long for a thin place, where I can nearly feel Kathy. Or a thin space, when I can feel her vividly again. Sometimes I worry that my memories are getting duller as time passes. I know that they are. Kathy was so bright and lively and memorable, she was. But we are human, and our minds age.
Every so often, I do feel a sense that Kathy is not fully gone from our earth, not in one sense. Her dear friend’s daughter’s middle name is Katharine. Her brother’s elder daughter is also Katharine. None of them have forgotten her. They miss every bit as much as I do. As long as she has that much importance in all their lives, there is a part of her that is not gone. We remember.
I recently read a series of blog posts about thin places on the Patheos website. And one part of the very last post stood out to me:
From a New Testament vantage point, Jesus serves as the ultimate thin place, the “place” in which God’s presence is revealed most directly. Those who follow Jesus carry on his thin-place mission. Thus the church should be a thin place, not only for its members, but also for the people to whom it has been sent.
The author, Mark Roberts, concludes by writing:
If you want to use the thin place metaphor, then perhaps you should say that the purpose of thin places is to help us realize that all places can be thin. Or, better yet, perhaps the purpose of a thin place is to train us to make the other places in our lives thinner. Moreover, when we realize that the Spirit of God dwells within us, we will come to believe that we are called to be thin places, as God makes his presence known through us.
And I am lucky. Perhaps I just need to be paying closer attention to how I’m living my life, since I am so lucky to have my life to live here. Perhaps if I make more effort to be a thin place, I can feel those other thin spaces, too. It evokes the famous Gandhi quote: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” I will be the friend to others that I wish I could still be to Kathy.
I still miss you, Kathy. Every day.