The abandoned barn sits on a gravel drive which curves into a well-traveled road at the edge of town. I always “almost” forget about it until it looms a stone’s throw away, lonely in its befallen glory, with rotting wood of perfect red struggling to boast its last hints of dignity as it succumbs to the cruelty of relentless Northern Illinois weather. Nobody comes, day after day, year after year, to tend to its weary boards.
I felt the soul of that barn today. I thought that I sometimes feel like that lonely barn. Surrounded by the chaos that presents itself from sunrise to sunset, and sometimes even through the night, I am sometimes still alone.
Several of my friends became grandmothers this early winter. And with my vicarious celebrations (I do look forward to one day sharing this fate!) comes the stark realization that time is passing. Like the barn, I am aging. I cannot stop the wiry grays from infiltrating my dishwater hair.
When we took the family to visit Dan’s mom two Sundays ago, she was slumped on the couch, fast asleep on the shoulder of another resident. It had been a while since we had been out to see her; there was a marked difference in her mobility. As Dan reached to assist the woman that had held him on her lap and nursed him to toddlerhood, she startled awake and let him hold her steady on her feet. Though the light of her smile pleads to tell us differently, she no longer recognizes me or my row of ducklings. She is grateful for the company, yes. Something about her, though, understands that we are her people. For that hour, she played cards with her grandchildren, ate a bite of pizza, and feigned understanding of the questions that she likely did not realize that she was asking. As we left her in her chair, I glanced back to see the sun fading; her eyes reminiscent of the hallowed windows on the lonely barn.
Our child came to us in a fury of screams. The years have passed and, through many services, the door often does not open. It is held shut by something: past trauma; lack of attachment; a primal wound too deep to heal. A lonely barn, surrounded by people.
I looked back at the landscape as I drove a bit further into town. From a distance, the loneliness seemed to fade. The barn became part of a vibrant university community. I retraced my path, parked the van, and approached the barn. With just enough room to retreat safely if I were apprehended, I stared. How frightened, how alone that barn looked when I was standing beside it. The memory of a flowering vine threatened me with its sharp, up close, seasons-since-bearing-beauty barrenness.
My dear longtime friend lives just across the road from that barn. When she faces the direction of the field and looks out at the barn, I like to believe that a small bit of its loneliness goes away. When we make ourselves available to others, when we stand alongside, when we understand that we may not understand…I like to believe that that, alone, has to be enough.