“No pressure.” That’s what Dad used to say after making some request that might involve the slightest inconvenience of the requestee. “No pressure,” was his way of saying he didn’t want to be a bother, but there was this one small thing he was wondering if you’d be ok with … if it’s not too much trouble, you know.
Ardelle and I were in Memphis a week ago last Tuesday, with plans to fly out later that day, when Dad died in Maryland. We buried him on Sunday afternoon in northwest Arkansas. If you’re thinking that there must have been a thousand decisions and details to attend to, not to mention thousands of miles to be traveled, to get from one end of that sentence to the other, you’re right. If you’re thinking the people making those trips and plans did so begrudgingly, you couldn’t be further from the truth.
Nobody wants to be a bother. But what is love if not the bother we take with each other? It’s sacrificing your Saturday for a nephew’s dance recital or mowing a neighbor’s lawn when she’s out of town or baking a lasagna for your uncle when Aunt Lucy’s in the hospital. Heck, we human beings will scale mountains and swim channels and make pilgrimages. We will learn to knit or play chess or rebuild carburetors or breed daylilies for nothing more than love of the endeavor itself. Why do we think we need to keep the people who love us from bothering with us, whether in life or in death? Love is always a bother. Love is the bother.
I was planning to lead staff meeting before our flight left that Tuesday. But when we got the call around 5 a.m. that Dad had died peacefully with my brother Kirk and his wife Randi at his side, I messaged the staff saying I was just a little too heartbroken to come in. A week later, I find myself still pretty worn out from what the days we’ve just lived through required of us. But I’m questioning that word: “heartbroken.” It’s true that a heart can be overwhelmed and damaged beyond repair by this world. But a heart is not a fragile object like a vase or a lamp. The heart is a muscle, and use and strain are how muscles get stronger. Maybe “heartsore” is closer to what I was. Maybe heartsore is closer to what I am still, as there’s nothing in our weariness that any of us would trade for the lighter workout a lesser love would have required. In fact, I suspect our hearts are sore because they’ve grown at least a little from the lifting they were given to do.
Best of all is the way one heart can’t do some work alone, and so ends up relying on others, bothering them with its need of them, asking some to fly in from a far coast on short notice, asking others to sing “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” or say graveside prayers in the snow or even just read a blog post written as a meandering thank you to every heart, from Memphis to Manhattan, who carried some corner of our sadness. Carried it gladly, because they were wise enough to know that such work is not what depletes or breaks our hearts. It’s the bother they are built for. The bother that builds them into what they and we were made to become.