Though this post will comprise the crux of a weekend trip I’ve been unwrapping little by little throughout the week, I know it’s going to be the most difficult of the five to write, simply because what I’m about to share cannot be fully understood in earthly terms and thoughts.
“It only makes sense from a spiritual perspective,” Marie and I concluded on the shuttle ride over to Buca di Beppo, an Italian eatery in St. Paul, this past Saturday evening. “There’s just no way to fully explain it in physical terms, especially to someone looking in from the outside.”
So here’s my attempt at the impossible.
Who, after all, can make sense of our having traveled 250 miles to a birthday celebration in honor of someone who is no longer alive to gather with people we’d never met? What would compel two mothers to leave their families for a weekend and take part in such an occasion nearly four hours from their homes?
It was all about Emilie, and even though other events entered into our weekend, Saturday’s celebration was the central gathering that placed us at Buca, a restaurant where Emilie Lemmons, a fellow writer-mother-blogging pal, had celebrated her final earthly birthday, her 40th, with friends two Januarys ago.
A few weeks after she died on Christmas Eve 2008, Emilie’s friends had returned to the spot they’d so enjoyed with her the year prior. It seemed right to celebrate the life of a woman they’d come to adore and love at the restaurant of her choosing, a place where they’d all shared giggles, pasta and wine the year before.
Both Marie and I came to know Emilie through her beautiful writing. And actually, we came to know one another through it as well. Her dying is what caused us to meet one snowy night last winter. We’d been sharing her world through words, and as those words began revealing the possibility of a life soon to be cut short, we did the thing humans seem to be inclined to do when loss is imminent by gathering to grieve.
In the weeks after Emilie’s untimely exit, I formed some online connections with her friends in the Twin Cities. Her blog may have ended, but it didn’t feel right that all life, all connection to her, needed to end. I was delighted to find a place of welcoming through a few of her faraway friends, as well as her sister, Ellen, from Oregon.
Which is why when Liz, who organized this year’s birthday celebration in Emilie’s honor, invited me to the event, I jumped at the chance to go, despite several obstacles. Eventually, things fell into place and Marie and I began firming up our weekend plans.
That’s how we came to travel a fairly good length of roadway to celebrate the birthday of our blogging heroine on what would have been her 42nd birthday at one of her favorite restaurants; how we came to meet, in real life, Missy (Marketing Mama) and Liz (Random Thoughts of a Lutheran Geek), bloggers I’ve met through Emilie, along with a few other of her friends.
As if that wasn’t thrilling enough, another special blessing came to me at Buca. Through my work at our local Catholic radio station, Real Presence Radio, I recently met, on air, the lovely St. Paul freelance writer Christina Capecchi. It was in December, in the middle of a live phone interview, that I recognized her name as someone who’d recently left a comment on Peace Garden Mama regarding her time working alongside Emilie at The Catholic Spirit newspaper. We marveled right there, in the middle of the broadcast, at the connection and shared our mutual admiration for Emilie. Though Christina wasn’t part of Emilie’s blogging circle, she had been an integral part of her life. One thing led to another and Christina, though she’d never met any of us in person either, was welcomed into the celebratory fold.
Christina and Me: Does this look like two people meeting for the first time?
In other words, there were a lot of new introductions Saturday night. We had all known Emilie in one form or another – some through a close friendship, one through a working relationship, and a couple of us as fellow writers and faithful readers of her blog. What bound us all was Emilie herself. As food and drink were passed and shared at Buca, the thought occurred to me that there was just one person missing: Emilie. But then I realized, no, she is here. I also realized that if she’d been there physically, I would not have, because I likely never would have met any of those beautiful people. It’s a bittersweet thought, indeed.
As we got ready to part from Buca, Christina handed me the gift bag featured in my Monday post. It was Emilie’s birthday but I was being given a gift. Even though that might have seemed wrong in any other setting, something about it seemed so right at that moment, and I don’t mean because I was the recipient. The gift represented new friendships and connections borne from old ones, and it represented life – Emilie’s life and the power of it, how her vibrant time on this earth had brought us together, and how the seeds she’d been planting and carefully tending during her time here were bringing forth new life that has only now begun to blossom.
I am so thankful for all of it, but especially for my faith that helps me see life through a lens revealing this world as just a beginning of something much more. And it heartens me to realize that Emilie is already there, already experiencing the bliss of the next world, even while staying near to help draw us toward that even more beautiful life that is to come.
Emilie and Stephen Lemmons
What do you consider this life’s most precious gift?