The bigger, more beautiful picture
“When we do the hard, intimate work of friendship, we bring a little more of the divine into daily life. We get to remind one another about the bigger, more beautiful picture that we can’t always see from where we are.”– Shauna Niequist
Okay, so imagine you are traveling across several states to northern Virginia, to attend a family reunion of 110 people– that’s right, one hundred and ten— coming together from all over the country, as far away as California. Let’s say you only have a couple of days there. What would you do? Visit with family? Go tour the monuments? See a bit of the Smithsonian? Help your friend with her research paper? Hmmm, how did that one get on the list?
You might want to ask Pat. She’s your neighbor here at Defeat Despair, and she shows up on a regular basis, though you will seldom see evidence of that unless you look for the little green and white quilted square that became her Gravatar the first time she clicked “Like.” Pat is not one to comment much online, as she has mentioned before, but she’s very faithful to read the blog and let me know she’s been there by clicking “like” to leave her little quilt emblem, like a friendly secret handshake.
She’s also wonderful at keeping in touch the good old-fashioned way…postal mail, and sometimes its closer cousin, email complete with digital photos now and then. Pat and I have been in touch for somewhere between four and five years now, and if you’ve been in my home, you’ve seen bits and pieces of her gifts to me. Cute postcards, a cheery fridge magnet, a book of inspiring quotes with a personal history behind it, a CD of songs composed by her late mother, who was a gifted musician…Pat often senses that I’m in need of uplifting thoughts or an encouraging word or two, and she’s filled that gap for me more often than I can remember.
And now you get to see her in person! Well, almost. After years of knowing her only through her words, gifts and occasional photos, I was overjoyed that she chose to spend one of her precious two full days in the DC area with me. I was able to meet many of her family (and to congratulate the people who put that amazing gathering together) before whisking her away to my favorite little cafe, La Madeleine, where we celebrated Bastille Day with a tasty brunch and little blueberry/strawberry tarts made for the holiday. Pat’s multilingual and speaks fluent French, so that made it even more fun.
Then she went back to our townhouse and let me interview her for my research project on letter writing. Although it was a fun topic, it’s not what a lot of people might define as a preferred way to spend a rare vacation day. But she somehow made me feel she enjoyed it almost as much as I did, not to mention giving me some great ideas to incorporate into my paper. That’s the sort of thing that Niequist might include in her reference to “the hard, intimate work of friendship:” answering a lot of questions about your personal habits and opinions, knowing that there’s absolutely nothing in it for you. There was plenty in it for me, though, on so many levels.
The highlight of the day for me was when I was dropping her back off at the hotel and we had to say goodbye. We prayed together and as she walked me to my car, she spontaneously burst into a beautiful gospel song we sing at church sometimes. I knew then that she had inherited her mother’s gift for music. That song of praise rang in my mind for days, a gift that kept on giving, a reminder of the bigger and more beautiful picture. I still can’t see it very clearly, but Pat helps me keep believing it is there.