What I Miss Most
Well before these socially distant days, I formed the habit of logging onto Skype for needed conversation. A snippet of digital pop music announces an incoming video call, and I face my counselor, a man who sits in a St. Louis office park and submits searing questions in a soft timbre.
One Monday a month, I anticipate that meeting, moving through my day with the slight unease of someone inside an itchy sweater. If I could, I would wriggle free from my anxiety and the appointment. But I keep most of my promises, so I heed those synthesized tones.
Without fail, after each 45-minute session, I breathe free. Words spoken in trust wash away all the silt and sediment deposited by a month’s worth of worry and disappointment. Sitting with the rare feeling of total release, one impression remains—spending unbroken time with someone who knows me both terrifies me and restores my soul.
Is it possible to miss a place you never visited? What I miss most about a perfect garden, inhabited before we marked time, isn’t the cool of the day or an ever-elusive sense of harmony with every living being. It isn’t even the audible voice of God. Reaching back into Eden, musing on what was and might still be, I miss the innate sense of being fully known and fully loved, a phenomenon once so natural it deserved no second thought.
Trace amounts of what I lack breach the atmosphere. A poet captures my desire or loneliness in a single line, and I blush at the faint echo of a first kiss. I exhale after a night’s argument with my wife yields a truce and the tether of further understanding. Weary yet somehow better. This must be what hot yoga feels like.
An editor remarks upon one of my sentences as if to say, “This thought makes the world go round.” Eighty-proof approval, warm and dizzy, surges through me.
These moments space themselves out. Maybe I turn them away at the door. At some subconscious level, maybe I know I couldn’t handle their sheer power when stacked together. Self-preservation or self-loathing keeps the courage it takes to step into love at a safe distance.
We instinctively retreat from being known and loved; this cowardice, a condition common to penniless poets and larger-than-life rock stars, to white-collar workers and those who rush to break the seal of burning buildings.
This fear, distracting us from what we crave most, uniquely presents itself—this season’s fig-leaf fashion. Conversing with a friend over coffee, I tie my words in a tidy bow, afraid of what follows silence. My wife sits next to me on the couch, silently mouthing along to something I wrote and again I feel itchy fabric against skin.
My son asks whether I make mistakes like the one he just committed, looking for proof he too can be known and loved. Something skips within my chest, and I withhold a cool cup of water for the sake of saving a little face, a little mystery. I think back on a day’s worth of situations and social media and lament that I wasn’t anyone’s first choice; then I resolve to add a few inches to the fence around my true self.
Christians love to speculate about what they will enjoy most in heaven. Is it possible to know what you want from a place you’ve never visited? If so, the same answer returns to me, subtle and sweet.
Yes, I wait to see and be seen by the dearly departed. I long to throw an arm around Bono’s shoulders, both of us drunk on grace, and belt a chorus of “Mysterious Ways.” Let me seize the chance to awkwardly wander up to Flannery O’Connor, pardon myself, and ask which of her Christ-haunted children she loved most.
Sometimes I picture heaven and long to be obliterated by the light of God. Or to feel his breath, like a refiner’s fire upon my face, as he answers my capital-letter questions, then offers a tender “Well done.” I imagine a lifetime’s distress wick away at the recognition of my sinlessness, the awareness that I will never again do a body or soul one shred of damage.
Above all these sensations, I covet the moment when all those notes of knowing and loving—hummed by a counselor, a poet, an editor, a wife—sound together in a chord grander than expected. And I will rest my case, rest my groping and grasping, just rest. I will realize that, yes, it is possible to be known and loved. Not only is it possible—it’s the whole point. And a new garden will start sprouting from the seeds he has planted within my soul.