The Price of Love
The Price of Love
I hold it true, what’er befall
I feel it, when I sorrow must.
“Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1850
It is now more than five months since I lost a very close friend to cancer. Though Roy was 75 and I was 65, our hearts were exactly the same age. I miss Roy more than words can tell. The pain of loss still cuts deep.
I am aware that I am not the first person to pay the price that love extracts. But that doesn’t reduce the pain or alleviate my sense of loss. I am told that life will go on; that there will be new relationships to nurture that will allow me to live again. That may be true, but I know instinctively no one will ever fill the void that Roy left in my soul. Indeed, I am fortunate to have other life-giving friends but I am hard pressed to imagine how any of them could take Roy’s place.
I suppose if I had wanted to avert this kind of pain I should have guarded my heart space more carefully and not walked through the open door of Roy’s heart. Then the topography of my heart would perhaps have stayed more stable when Roy left. But who can live with a flat and barren soul? Monotony is not a good substitute for the pain of loss. Tennyson didn’t think so either when he wrote: “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
I have had many, good friends in life but I have only told a few of them that I love them. Roy was one of them. This was especially true when it became clear that Roy would be leaving soon. In that context the vocabulary of love seemed to come naturally. For the last while I told him every time we met that I loved him and he told me that he loved me too. But, not surprisingly, Roy’s departure created convulsions in my soul that have still not completely quieted down. Love is costly, but it is worth paying the price.
On one of my final visits with Roy I told him that one thing no one could take from me is the shared memories that we had created. We had been travel companions for quite some time. Especially in the past decade or so, we climbed the heights together from where we got to see the expansive, ever-unfolding mystery of God’s love and goodness. And we clung to each other and our God through some dark and stormy nights.
Roy’s final five or six weeks in palliative care was like an “Indian Summer” for both of us. Roy had reached a plateau where he was just getting increasingly more tired but without a lot of pain. So as I came repeatedly to see him just one more time, it always felt like the warm sunshine of mid-October was surrounding us. The harvest was done and winter would soon be upon us; we knew that. But, oh the joy of basking in the sunshine of God’s love together with a dear soul-mate before winter closed in.
Nearly a decade ago, having “burned out” in what I had thought was faithful service to God, Roy drew close and offered me a hand up. Unlike some other fellow pilgrims, he looked beyond my broken body and tired soul and assured me that my heart was in the right place. That gave me hope and motivation to keep going. For this I am forever grateful.
In one sense I saw Roy as a fatherly mentor along the way toward healing and hope. But soon he began to say that this mentorship was a two-way street. To know that in my weakness I was also blessing him was like a healing balm for my soul. My life still mattered to someone. We always challenged each other to go deeper and higher at the same time. We read each other’s books and then discussed them with a good deal of passion over breakfast or coffee more often than I can count.
I often told Roy that he was the best educated person I knew. I actually meant that, even though his formal education had ended with grade eight. It seemed that no matter what subject we brought to the table, he always said that he had read a book about that and then proceeded to offer an intelligent and heart-felt opinion about the matter. I soon found out that throughout his fifty-odd years of trucking he had always carried a book or two with him in the truck – all around North America. Besides being my friend, I thought of him as “Reynold Penner, PhD.” I should have printed him a fancy certificate. But that is too late now.
Increasingly we found ourselves on the same page, and he always encouraged me to write about what we were discovering together. Sometimes what we had found was outside the box of common understanding. And when the biting criticisms came we encouraged each other with the thought from Acts 4:19, that, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” In a very real sense, everything I have written in the last ten years really should carry his signature as well as mine. I don’t remember how often I called him up and read a piece I had just finished. And most often he would reply with encouraging words like, “Send it. I will stand behind you!” He had an implicit trust in my ability to articulate in writing our common findings.
Saying farewell is hard. On the afternoon before Roy died I whispered in his ear, “I love you.” And I am sure I heard him reply, “I love you too.” In the end that is all that matters; knowing love and paying the price.