A little more than five years ago, a dear friend from college, Catherine, died after an on-again, off-again battle (she called it "inconvenient") with breast cancer for years. She was 49. Her little boy was 11. It broke our hearts.
Cathe had a way of collecting friends like some people collect coins. She polished all of us and scooped us together in a pile. Lo and behold, we became friends, good friends who gather several times a year to flirt with Italian waiters, eat too much and drink a bunch of wine. Sometimes we top it off with a forbidden cigarette, just because Cathe liked being a bit of a rebel.
After she died we had a tree planted in her honor on the campus of her alma mater, the College of St. Catherine. Each spring it boasts pink blooms, and a bench now graces the site, too. On July 31, the anniversary of her death, I sat there again, drinking in a kind of silence almost antithetical to Cathe's nature: She was Irish and never shut up, except sometimes in church, and even then she usually found something to whisper and giggle about.
As I sat there thinking about Cathe, I hoped there is, indeed, the afterlife to which we Christians cling. I have some good gossip I need to tell her and I need to feel again the special kind of exhaustion that endless laughter brings. I need her to tell me a story. I miss her "cackle."
Suddenly, my reverie was interrupted. Someone walking to his car after a campus summer music conference had burst into a perfect-pitch rendition of "Amazing Grace." Thanks, Cathe.