When I was a kid, I spent more than my fair share of time in church parking lots. On Sundays, we’d shuffle off to wait for our parents, gabbing inside. On Wednesdays, we’d play kickball and street hockey in the old lot behind the building, the sound of the red ball thunking against our feet and the surrounding buildings proof that we were young, that we were safe.
Sometimes, my family was the last to pull out of the lot, having arrived late from a retreat or a float trip or a ski trip or a mission to Kentucky. Our family waited to make sure all the other kids got picked up, that the supplies were stowed in the building. By the time we rolled onto Fourth St., we prayed that the stop lights at every-single-corner miraculously would turn for us, hastening our tired selves homeward.
I closed my eyes on those quiet, dark drives home. I knew exactly how many intersections. I clearly sensed the car tilt itself in exertion up the big hill (the one on which I ran out of gas one hot Sunday…) The right hand turn, the windy curves, another right, a slope downward, a right fork, a right turn, and finally, the descent on the gravel drive, pulling to a stop.
Where I knew, despite having enjoyed the presence of my friends, despite running wild like raggamuffins, despite the volume that a group of high school kids can revel in, this modest, quiet home I would find rest.
Driving south from Bartlesville toward Tulsa, I blink into the night, just past dusk. My daughter beside me, giddy after a soccer win, finally sensed the calm. Her breath slowed and she lost herself in a movie projected for her pleasure only from the device on her lap. The car fled through the darkening sky, the persistent beat of tires on asphalt my only music.
The sky was a bolt of denim hurled across the vault. What had once been the bright flush of hot spring, heralding hot summer, had become the faded pink blush of late day dusting the edge of the world. Not quite the height of night I could just make out the leaves on trees, fat with spring and the stiff prairie breeze. Still miles out from Tulsa, I caught my first glimpse of the lit city, a too small flame on a too big expanse.
I listened as my child, this wonderful person, breathed in and out beside me. Heard her laugh at jokes only she could hear. Thought about the game she had just played and wondered about those quiet drives home when I was a girl.
Does she roll into our driveway now the way I rolled into mine with my parents? Does she feel, when she steps across our threshold, a relief at being where she knows she belongs and will forever belong?
This post was inspired by this by my friend Maile Smucker, whom I just got to meet and hug in real life. She’s pretty fantastic.