Don't climb alone

Forgive me. I have to go back to a road already travelled. But I swear I have a point.

A few months ago I wrote about a September pilgrimage to Cape Cod. The Cape is my backstory. I was a kid there, a teenager, a college guy. My honeymoon was at the Cape, and we introduced it young to our own kids. My parents retired to the Cape, and we visited them with the grandkids.

A big part of my Cape memories are rooted in my older brother, John. We were kids there together in 1960s summers, grown-ups visiting together later on.

Though he lived and worked in Tucson, Arizona — he was a university accountant — he bought a little condo on the Cape and planned to retire there. But he was hit with the cancer at 60 and died five years later.

His wife, Sue, kept the place, however, and often stays there summers to escape the Arizona heat.

I first met Sue when she first met John. I was in college, though I was getting ripped and roaring for heading out on my own. Sue and I got along fine. Just a few years older, the connection was my brother.

She was kind and friendly. I was young with a goofy smile on my face. Never a bad word between us over the next 40 years.

But you know how it is. Everybody knows how it is. Our family has scattered hither and yon across these United States. After John died, we didn’t lose touch with Sue, but we lost touch in any kind of a meaningful way.

Christmas cards and floral arrangements arrived back and forth at the proper seasonal times. But our lives went separate ways.

Anyway, the good news is that during our September visit, she was still at the Cape when we arrived, though heading back to Tucson shortly.

We reconnected personally and immediately, that always surprising miracle when it all instantly picks up as if someone left the room for little more than a minute rather than half a decade ago.

We got her out of the condo — she had developed serious mobility problems over the years — and took her to lunch. Better than that, we wore out the afternoon riding the old roads and telling the old stories. We talked about us, we talked about the ghosts of the past and the dreams for the future.

We remembered my brother and her husband.

We laughed at his idea to open a sandwich shack on the highest point over Cape Cod Bay and advertise it with a 75-foot neon sign that could be seen anywhere on the Cape. He’d call it “The Jolly Lobster!” The nuttiness of it all defined his subversive humor.

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The visit ended, we continued our vacation, and Sue headed home to Tucson. A few weeks after, my oldest brother, who lives out there, sent an email saying that Sue was heading to resident therapy for stubborn pain and her mobility limits. A little later that they had to take her to the hospital.

A little later that she had died.

But I don’t want to do this wrong. This is not a sad story ending on a sad note. The joy and fun of that afternoon at the Cape I’ll never lose. Instead of having only faded memories, we had the gift of love and friendship alive, whole and experienced just weeks before her unexpected death.

One of God’s tender mercies in our lives is the people he shares with us. Don’t let the chance to be with them slip by. Because you don’t want to miss that joy.

It was Thomas à Kempis who wrote that Christ made love the stairway that enables us to climb to heaven.

Hold fast to it.

And don’t climb alone.

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Indiana. Follow him on Twitter @BobPLockwood.