I slid into a creative community scorned, scathed, and suspicious of trusting others. There I met people of talent, truth, and artistic intent. People of goodwill and grace. Some I got to know well.
Some, no more than a face and a name. That was fine with me. I was in a state of hiding, okay to exist around the margins.
But one person made it a point to get to know me. Whether she meant to or not, she found me. Through encouragement, curiosity, and gracious impartiality to anything in my past, she befriended me.
In what I’d come to know as her characteristic capacious heart for others, Leslie pursued friendship with intentional care. She took the time to cultivate friendship with me.
And I’d deflect. I’d redirect. I’d ignore questions about how I was doing. Why would I talk about my life when hers, by comparison, was so fraught with pain? I came to Leslie’s story in a chapter of suffering.
I wanted to ask her about her treatment. How I might pray for her. How she was feeling. Her husband. Their latest projects. Their girls. And she’d respond in poised grace, always honest, then she’d turn it right back on me. She actually, really, genuinely cared. Higher praise I cannot give. Leslie showed interest in me when I was utterly uninterested in myself.
Our language was new-to-us Van Goghs, frequent check-ins, and lines from poems we found. We were fluent.
Can I say something vulnerable about Leslie, now that she can’t hear it? There were many days, more than I would have liked to have admitted, when the only positive thoughts I had were given to me by Leslie. Times when the only glimpse of the good, the true, the beautiful came from a message from Leslie. Can I say that unbeknownst to her, she was at times the only person in my life holding my arms up for that day’s battle?
Grief is a measurement of value. What we grieve hardest, we value most. What saddens us most deeply, we love most intensely. Leslie, in your immeasurable value, my God, you were loved and will be grieved for endless days to come.
In truth, I’m less interested in fighting any battle without Leslie as my ally. I’m less interested in Van Goghs without her to see them with. I’m less interested in poetry without Leslie to share it with.
I don’t grieve as one without hope. It’s buried there somewhere. I started writing this on Good Friday; I’m finishing sitting in church on Easter Sunday. We who loved Leslie live along this dark Friday of our loss, but we look to the coming Sunday. In the secure permanence of that glorious reunion, I can touch the hem of hope.
Mary Oliver wrote:
“To live in this world
you must be able to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.”
Those who knew Leslie found the first two came easily. This third thing, profoundly hard. And I refuse to do it. We may have to loosen our mortal grip so we can get an eternal hold, but there’s no letting go.
This tribute by Corey Latta is part of an “In Memoriam” series we are running this week for our dear friend Leslie Anne Bustard.
The featured image, “Lake District Moonrise,” is courtesy of Lancia E. Smith and used with her glad permission for Cultivating.
Corey is a poet, writer, speaker, and educator. He holds Master’s Degrees in Religion, English, and Counseling, and a Ph.D. in Literature. He is the author of C. S. Lewis and the Art of Writing, and the forthcoming The Serve the Work: Stray Thoughts on Christ and Creativity. Corey has written articles and given talks on subjects ranging from C. S. Lewis, the theology of creativity, the neurology of the imagination, and the power of story to heal life’s wounds.
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