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We’ve just returned from a trip to MN, followed by a trip “back east” to Michigan and Chicago, to see family that included my first visit back to the cemetery where my sister Esther was buried last April. Bittersweet, for sure. And we saw a lot of friends.

Just before those trips, I hosted a living room full of new acquaintances from church–all women, and I closed that event with excerpts on relationships from Sr. Joan Chittister’s The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully. Naturally, those words stuck with me on our recent travels.

When the relationships we forge as we go begin to disappear, our own life changes. We know then what it is to be abandoned, to be a little less impervious to feeling than we thought we were. Now it is not things we need, it is understanding we crave (p. 79).

Oh my, those thoughts resonate. I was asked often on our recent trips, “How’s it going in Sioux Falls? How do you like it?”

I could be surfacey and say “Everything’s fine”  because mostly it is…because we have our daughter and her family and have found several new interests. But I’d rather take people along with me on my journey to relocate after living in one area for fifty years, so I say something like, “Imagine starting over from scratch, knowing no one and no one knowing you. You are a blank slate. You have no background, no identity. No known joys, no known sorrows. Not only are YOU no one, but you are no one’s wife or mother or grandma or colleague.”

So, you can see why I like that piece on relationships. With this move, we’ve left all our years-long relationships behind. And we can have the nicest things–city, home, church, shopping, cultural amenities, and more, but as Chittister says, we don’t need things now, instead, at our age, we crave understanding.

And where is that understanding going to come from if you’re new in town? Few people will come to your door and say, “Hi, I want to be your friend.” Even less so, I think, when you move to a smaller town like we did where lots of people are related or have known each other since grade school.

In writing to older people, Chittister tells us who have lost relationships that we “need to reach out first” (p. 83). She knows, in losing relationships, we also lose “the memories, the sense of self, the feeling of community” (p. 81). She appreciates that those losses are huge, that “relationships are the alchemy of life” (p. 82).

So, I tell old friends and family who ask how I’m doing that it’s great to be back with them. That I don’t have to start from scratch. That I know and can feel their understanding. That I didn’t really realize I missed it until that understanding wasn’t a given.

But I also tell them, I know I must continue to reach out and meet new people to be able to get, and give, that level of understanding from a new set of folks in my life.

Those women in my living room was one way of doing that. And I love the final Chittister’ quote I shared with them: “(Relationships) are a sign of the presence of a loving God in life” (p. 82). Believing that we are created in God’s image, I could sense God’s presence among us, particularly through each of their stories they had freely shared in a go-around. I sensed we all need understanding at this time in our lives when we all are experiencing losses of relationships, whether through death, distance, estrangement, or more.

On my first day home, my daughter texted me that she was going to run errands. I asked back, “Do you want company?” I was feeling lonesome for all the family and friends we had visited, and she’s a great listener. I can depend on her for her understanding! So, on a bright chilly day, we went to the mall and then downtown. I asked her to take this photo on our famed Sculpture Walk on Phillips Avenue; I wanted evidence that I truly do live now in the state where bison roam.

So, come on over! I’m sure we could all use some understanding…