I have a friend I hear from intermittently: a Spaniard, seventy-something, a former Jesuit priest living now in Chile. His priestly version of the world is far more orderly and peaceful than my own and comes across in broken-English. His emails generally cheer and entertain, but a recent message confused me: If I were to write a blog, he said, it’d be on the plentitude of the soul.
The plentitude of the soul?
A few weeks later, I left for New York to celebrate an anniversary, which included a reunion with some old lawyer friends from a time when I practiced in the city. We had gone separate ways but remained in touch, especially around the death of one of their sons—just 19, just beginning, and from unexplained medical difficulties. It had been decades since some of us had seen each other, and I was eager for the evening to arrive.
Our rendezvous was at a rooftop bar at the fashionable Peninsula Hotel in Manhattan, appealing for its urban, upscale feel, completely unlike the old standby hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant we’d find ourselves in later; bring your own beer.
We met our friends in the lobby, hugged hard, rode the elevator together, and stepped out into the summer heat. The place, less beautiful than I imagined, didn’t matter anymore. The bar fell away, the noise, the silly stuff, the stink of cigar. The inattentive waitresses, the lightly-poured, vastly-overpriced drinks, the humidity curling my hair—none of it mattered.
I looked long into their faces and imagine that they scrutinized mine. What mattered were the stories. When you lose a son, you laugh again, but not really, he said. And she: You go out, you do things, but it never leaves you. But here they were five years later, seemingly of sound mind and body, at least from the look of them, and with some constructed purpose to their days. I was impressed at this fortitude, this courage. All things considered, it was a relief to find them so well.
In that moment, humbled by the uncertainties of life, grateful to have this time of true connection with people I value, I realized that this was the plentitude of soul of which my Spaniard spoke.
Write it, he said, and I wondered how a person could ever tell it right.
Photo credit: Yarik Mishin, sxc