Busy Living

Easter Sunday was Simon’s favorite day of the year. This was new because for most of his life, it had been Thanksgiving.

When the family was young, Thanksgiving meant laughter and stuffed bellies and football at the city park. Once the kids flew the coop, Thanksgiving provided the one time of year when everyone found their way back home. They rendezvoused at their Appalachian cabin and blew the weekend gorging on country ham and Mary’s famous yeast rolls. They sat by the fire, on the porch swings and on the lakeside dock, reading novels they’d swapped or catching up on the months they’d been apart. They picked up their decade-long Spades tournament, keeping a long-running tally on a legal pad sitting atop the fridge. No one knew what score they were playing to, nobody cared. They took meandering walks among the Hickories and the White Pines. On Saturday night, they went into town for Uncle Carter’s famous BBQ and then to The Rusty Nail for local mountain music. Thanksgiving carved out a haven of joy and simplicity.

Since Mary died, however, things were not so simple.

One might think that Simon gravitated to Easter because of the story of resurrection, the possibility that Simon might one day hold Mary again. The fact is Simon was not drawn to Easter so much because of what it said about the dead but because of what it said about the living.

The first Easter after Mary died, Simon sat in a pew toward the back corner. Mary had only been dead three weeks, and it was late Easter morning before Simon decided to actually show up for the service at St. Thomas. He didn’t want anybody telling him to say Allelulia. He didn’t want to make a joyful noise. He didn’t want to endure a boisterous homily. Jesus may have walked out of the grave, but Mary lay underneath six feet of cold dirt.

When the Reader read the Gospel text, however, Simon noticed how all the characters were running everywhere, frantic, and it amused him. Mary Magdalene running to the two disciples, then Peter sprinting off to the tomb, only to be overtaken by another disciple whose jet speed forever ensconced Peter as the brunt of Easter-sermon humor. All the running struck Simon as funny, and he chuckled, louder than he wished. Folks on nearby rows raised their heads and looked his way. The Reader seemed startled for a moment before she regained composure.

Patrick, Simon and Mary’s oldest son, had always been in a hurry, always forgetting something. At least twice a month, Patrick would leave his lunch or homework or tennis racket he needed for practice. He’d dial his mom or dad, asking them to make an emergency trip to school. Twice, when Patrick went backpacking with friends, he called Simon from the trailhead two hours away, once needing his sleeping bag and once his hiking boots. The last phone call caught Simon on a stressful weekend as a publisher’s deadline loomed. After a terse conversation, Simon slammed the phone. “What’s wrong with this kid? He busts around without a care in the world, expecting someone else to pick up his life. The boy needs to slow down, I swear…”

Mary stood at the kitchen counter, holding her tea. She watched Simon and smiled. Simon knew that look. He knew wisdom, ever so irritating in moments like this, was coming. “You know, Simon,” and Mary paused. She liked to pause when she knew she had Simon’s attention. “Patrick forgets because his life is so full, he can’t keep track of all the good things. I hope he keeps forgetting a few details as long as he possibly can. The chaos means he’s living.”

Simon did not know why the resurrection reading carried him to this memory. It must have been the chaos, the frantic running. Simon laughed, interrupting the reverent worship, receiving confused stares. Maybe Mary Magdalene and the disciples scurried about because, on that shocking morning, their life just took off without them, insisting they catch up. Maybe their circuits overloaded with all the previously unthinkable possibilities. Maybe they were invigorated with the brilliance of how much life mattered, how much their life mattered. In the first Easter story, Jesus’ grave split open, and this meant everybody needed to get moving, get busy living.

That afternoon, Simon dialed up Patrick, just to say hello and that he’d been thinking about him. Then Simon poured a dark cup of coffee, sat on his back porch as the sun warmed his face and wrote the first page of a new novel.

Otis and the River Boys

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“Well, are you going to kiss me or leave me hurting?” Mary was close, intimately close – but moved no closer. She was not a tease, and this was not a game. This was an honest question. Mary’s fingers intertwined with Simon’s, rubbing the back of his hand with her thumb.

For a good hour, they sat under moonlight, scrunched close as the music worked its groove. Otis and the River Boys would strip a guitar clean and then, without missing a lick, slide into a soulful melody so slow and aching you knew you were in love – even if you weren’t. There was electricity between the couple, their thighs pressed tight. The surging music provided good excuse for them to lean near and whisper in the others’ ear. Are you chilly? Simon asked. Do you want another glass of wine? Can you believe what Otis just did with those chops of his? As the evening progressed, the questions came more often, his lips lingering near Mary’s ear a little longer. The music drove a hard rhythm, but it gave only a tinny dink compared to the thump in Simon’s chest.

The past three years tested their vows. They promised to stay together, to honor one another. There were days when they believed they stayed true only because of the kids, but they both knew there was really something more. They had tasted something, they had known something together. This memory, still alive, gave them enough to live on until fresh light came.

But for a long while now, all had been dark. The bankruptcy and Claire’s death pulled them asunder in ways that shocked them, ways they could not understand. They hadn’t slept together in fourteen months. Conversation was often curt, so much pain between them, so much longing, so much sadness. There are few things more lonely than a soulish intimacy that has gone cold, a desire you know like your own self – but can no longer set free.

Otis belted a tune of love and hot, long Louisiana nights. Mary watched Simon’s eyes. Simon knew this was going to be a magnificent summer.