A Tribute

Kilimanjaro, the world’s highest freestanding mountain in Tanzania, Africa, gave me an unexpected gift several weeks ago while I prepared to embark for its snow-crusted summit. Despite an unnerving number of heavily scribbled post-it notes, check lists and gear manuals, I sought to savor a few moments with a close friend before settling into a series of ill-fitting airline seats that would carry me to another continent.

The length of my trip and the advanced stage of her cancer suggested that this might be our last chance to chat. While I couldn’t climb into the hospital bed the way I had sometimes snuggled into her cozy bedroom blankets, I still soaked up our words though censored by thirst and medication and knowing that only the choicest things need be said in the face of each slipping second.

As I walked away from her room, my neck still warm from our fierce hug, and as little elbows and cheeks pressed their goodbyes into the same skin hours later, grief grew into gratitude when I considered the grace that allows a good work to unfold in our days and hearts.

I am comforted as I recall the grace that gave rise to beauty as batches of savory chili and last minute car rides and fish caught and a humid cancer walk and books shared and dreams dared and prayers deeply groaned and one grubby pink headband carried to the summit of a very high mountain.

Separation is easier when preceded by intentional and generous moments shared with one another. The goodbye itself is quick; there is no time to make the beauty bloom brighter, the relief of time well-sown richer. There is only a brief moment to cherish the beauty built or painfully grieve its absence before releasing our hands of one another.

This beauty reminds us of a good work’s worthy aim; how we live with our brothers and sisters and sons and daughters will always bear precious, eternal treasure:

“Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come…So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world…I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ ” (Matthew 24:42,44; 25:34,40)

The kingdom of heaven will be fully expressed in the same sudden space as often are this world’s goodbyes. How great will be the relief – or pained grief – upon revelation of how we have cared for one another.

(Bethany Neppl passed away forty-eight hours after we shared our last laugh and as I landed in Africa to climb Kilimanjaro. As promised, I carried her with me to its summit in the form of a pink headband, a gross understatement of her incredible hero heart. Bethany’s always invitation to know her sincerely and deeply will, for me, forever define the fearless love I will relentlessly seek to imitate.)

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