It sits in the wire basket on the counter along with five apples that are, quite frankly, past their prime. It is not-quite yellow, not-quite orange and it is smudged with dark lines, tiny lines that cross and knot like a web, that attest to the fact that it is not a grocery store grapefruit. It is not perfectly round or perfectly hued, but it is a grapefruit.
The others have already been scored and peeled, skinned and sectioned, bitten with lips drawn back in anticipation of tartness. This one, though, may well, by now, be too dry to eat. I’ve passed by, looked at it over and over again, and, yet, I’ve chosen not to stop, not to get out the knife, not to take and eat.
I’ve just figured out why.
Cooper was a much loved 8-year-old who liked to wear hats, especially fedoras. He shared a middle name with his aunt and a home with two sisters and a mother and father who described him as “an old soul.” He endured far too many visits to doctors and hospitals with a huge smile and a sense of humor that most grown-ups would envy. In a world where smiles and humor are not that easy to find, his death made no sense.
Cooper’s grandmother has been my friend for nearly thirty years. Thirty years and I realized, staring through the windshield into the haze on the interstate, that I had no idea what I would say to her when I walked into her hug.
From the parking lot of the Mulberry Street United Methodist Church where a group of us met to ride to the service together, we could see a passel of children on the playground, their voices rising and falling in some indeterminate key, all of them waiting for a mother or father to arrive, to grip a fat little hand in his or her own and lead the way home.
The poignancy of the moment, the unconscious tenderness of the parents with the children, underscored the reason why we had come, why Mary Catherine had driven from Signal Mountain and Anne from Blue Ridge and I from Sandhill, why Susan had raced down the interstate from Hartsfield, why others had forgotten whatever else they might have been doing on a Friday afternoon in March to make their way to Riverside Cemetery.
At some point, as we stood suspended in the surreality and the sunshine, Mary Catherine said, “I have grapefruit.”
It turns out that her cousins who live in Florida had brought her grapefruit, lots of grapefruit, and she wanted to share. So each of us took a few. And I heard myself saying, “You know my motto: There is nothing in life so bad that it can’t be made at least a little better by a party favor.”
I immediately felt awful. It was a stupid thing to say. Totally inappropriate.
Except that now I know it wasn’t. It was truth.
There are moments in life – moments of significant pain, deep uncertainty, or just the occasional awkward silence – when words are not adequate. When whatever power words might otherwise have to soothe anxiety, incite a political movement, or create the universe has been sapped. In those moments all we can do is share. Whatever we have.
I didn’t say anything when I walked into my grandmother-friend’s hug. I felt her head against my shoulder. I heard her catch her breath in a sob. I hugged her back. I cried, too.
Hugs. Tears. Grapefruit.
Here is a grapefruit. Here is my heart. Here are the memories we share and the grief that is now added to those memories.
Thank you. Thank you for the grapefruit. Thank you for this grace.
There is one grapefruit left. One. It needs no words.