When a face doesn’t tell the whole story

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I see familiar faces now–on my morning run, at the library, in the grocery store. I know we have some sort of shared history, but I can’t always place it. Did our children share a teacher? A dance lesson? Did that woman try to strong-arm me into joining the PTO? Did that fella deliver my pizza? I often wonder what is different about their lives, three years after we said goodbye and moved across the ocean.

I bumped into an old church friend at the donut shop. Two years ago, she survived a life and death fight with breast cancer. Another friend went back to work full-time. And another launched two church campuses. My mother-in-law lost her husband. My parents moved across the country twice. My former house, the one where I nursed my last baby in the wee hours of the night, has a new car parked in the driveway. One friend’s father has been slowly dying all of these years, while my sister-in-law birthed her fifth baby. My daughter’s friends now look down from the great heights of teenage limbs when they talk to me. They notice boys.

It’s easy for me to believe I have had the greater good, the greater change, the more unique life experience. It’s easy for me to believe this because I have cleaned the dirt of countless cities off my feet, and I have stood at the top of the world and bathed in the lowest spot on earth, and I have raised my family apart from the comforts of family and life-long friends. And in believing it, I fool myself into thinking that my experiences over the last few years are more valid, somehow more worthy of remembering than the years lining the “sort-of familiar” face I saw at the local park. I’d like to believe that she spent three years sipping lattes at Starbucks and shopping the aisles at Target, while I spent that time scratching my itch to wander all over the world.

These are the quiet lies I tell myself. The truth is, while I wandered, and secretly dreamt of shopping those very same aisles, a few of the people we left behind looked death square in the eye and said, “Not today, Sir.” Some scattered ashes into the air, taking flight along with them. Others labored and bore down and screamed new life into this tired earth. Some grew and others faded. A few said yes, and others learned how to say no.

These are the quiet truths I must remind myself when I see them. Many of these familiar faces have found the light and beauty and midnight depths of the universe in their own back yard, and the truth is I might find it here too.

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