“If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” Crosby, Stills and Nash lyrics echo in my mind. Ancient wisdom. Time and highways and the old enemy death steal our loved ones. While the road of lament is a holy one, deepening our spirit’s capacity to abide with the lover of our soul, there comes a time when acceptance is a gift.
I live in a transient area—a university region. Yet, I have stayed in this sweet, corn surrounded, not quite a suburb of Chicago town called Sycamore. I love this place where parking meters still require only one penny—a practice that is quaint, historic, and slightly annoying.
One time, as I fumbled for my penny outside of Elleson’s bakery (best doughnuts in the Midwest), a young man jumped out of his red convertible.
“Really? These meters still only cost a penny?” He was gleeful. He dropped in his coin and cranked the meter. “12 minutes? I get twelve minutes?” He laughed. “I grew up in this town, and I have been gone for twenty years. I can’t believe these meters are still here. I love it here! I miss it! Sycamore is the best!”
It was impossible not to smile even though I found the meters annoying. If you are only going to charge a penny, why not just have free parking and save the annoyance of always needing outdated coins? Still, his delight at the Sycamore charm was contagious, and I felt a kinship with him, as he loved this little town.
Despite the warning that if you even dip your toe in the Kishwaukee River you will live in Dekalb County forever, I find that like most legends, it is basically untrue. My family has dipped far more than a toe in the creek that boasts itself a river, but we don’t all live here anymore. We have portaged canoes over fallen logs in the Kish. The canoe has scraped the bottom. To continue downstream, you have to tread in the river, dragging the canoe behind you. It is a beautiful riverbed; so tree covered you don’t even realize that it winds through the towns along its bank. Perhaps what really happens is that wherever you roam, your heart is left in Dekalb County. So like the young man at the parking meter, you are gleeful upon return, rejoicing in being “home”, reminiscing—but you don’t stay. “Oh, the places you must go!”
But me? I seem to be stuck here like a rock along the riverbed of the Kish. As the river flows around the rock, people come and go from my life. Best friends slip through my fingers despite my grasping to keep them here—stolen by jobs and states with mountains and retirement dreams and wanderlust. The most painful parting was when my daughter moved to Tennessee. Like “The Midnight Train to Georgia”, she would board the midnight bus to Tennessee to be with her love, and eventually she also proclaimed, “I would rather live in his world than live without him in mine.” And we cheered her on toward this sweet young man that stole all of our hearts. So now, a piece of me also lives in Tennessee.
The crazy thing is, I have perhaps more wanderlust than most. That is what I do— I wander this world. The Creator has hidden gems that I love to find. Mist drifting up out of the Smokey Mountains like ancient Native American fires, gold-rimmed clouds at sunset in Colorado, ocean waves that crash over black boulders off the coast of California, howler monkeys that throw fruit at us in Costa Rica. This world is beautiful and mysterious and beckons to my soul.
But I always come home to Sycamore. Why? Well, maybe because I canoe the Kishwaukee River so often that the legend clings to me, but more likely I do not want to leave those I love here. Yet, as I age and others wander off, the ones I love are also there! Elsewhere in this vast world carrying pieces of my heart with them.
I could sit around and grieve. I could lament the days when my children played around my feet and cried, “Mommy, don’t leave me.” And I do, sometimes. I miss my friends. Missouri and Tennessee steal my kindred spirits from me. I have gotten used to the idea that people will leave me, well, sort of used to it. And not to be morbid, but death is always looming—that final journey across the Jordan.
So here is where I am landing. “Love the One You’re With.” Instead of bemoaning who isn’t with me, who I don’t see enough, who I long for—focus on those who are with me now—and love them well. Participate in the joys of this day, and be thankful for them. Laugh often. Weep with those who weep. Hug as many people as will let me. Offer thanks. Appreciate the time with those around me. Live with a grateful heart.
Maybe someday Tennessee or some other southern state will beckon me away from my beloved Sycamore. It could happen. But the legend of the Kish will live on. It will always have a piece of my heart. In the morning when I rise, and the sun dogs bolt into the pink Midwest sky pointing toward heaven, I will remember— Love God, love others. This is my journey. This is my purpose.