I recently returned to Pennsylvania, to the place where I spent most of my adult life. Everything was wonderfully familiar—streets, stores, restaurants, and most importantly, people. This is the place where I have a strong support network, created over a thirty-seven year period, where I have friends who know me, accept me and love me.
My five-day trip included lots of visiting, and each friend asked how I am doing in my new home and new job. “I am fine,” I would say, and then go on to talk about my work and friends and being near my family. Although I miss my life in PA, I have no regrets about moving back home. I love the daily interactions with my family that are now possible, and I shared stories of everyday experiences with my mother, siblings, nieces, nephews and cousins. My hopes for being near my family have been fulfilled beyond my expectations.
And yet, with every friend in PA, I found myself talking about the emptiness I feel because I am not in close proximity to them. I became aware as I spoke that my hands formed a circle, as though I were holding a beach ball. This invisible circle sat securely in my lap as I talked about how different my life is without them. The circle formed by my hands is the image of the emptiness I carry with me.
“Move back,” a number of friends suggested, but that is not the right move for me.
Some people in Michigan have suggested I become more involved, that I find more activities to fill the emptiness. But that does not feel right to me either. This emptiness is not one that can be eliminated by activity. It cannot be filled up or covered over. It is an emptiness that begs to be honored, to be held sacred. It is an emptiness I need to live with and move through on its own timeline.
This emptiness reminds me of all I had in PA, and it makes me deeply grateful. I have had a rich, full life—too many blessings to count. That life of old friends and familiar places still exists, only it is two states away from where I am now. I don’t want to forget what was; I want to honor my past.
The empty circle also holds the promise, the hope of what can be, what will be—in time and with patience.
Little by little, I know the edges of my loss and sadness are being softened, the circle of emptiness becoming smaller as I am gradually meeting new people, discovering new places and creating a new life in my new home.
In a few weeks, my church will begin the season of Advent, a time of hope and promise. But this year, I think Advent has come early for me. My awareness of this circle of emptiness is the sign that I am already waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled.