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  • She joined him at an outdoor table, her latte in hand. “So, how’s it going?”

    “It’s going,” he replied. “Not swimmingly well, but it’s going. Life goes on.”

    The sadness in his face was not hidden by the little smile he tossed in at the end. She didn’t know what to say -- something cheery and light, as if this girl had just been a passing fancy, hadn’t just taken a piece of his heart? She chose a more consoling response: “It’ll be hard to forget her.”

    “Forget her? Can’t do that. Wouldn’t want to.” Oops! She hadn’t phrased that right. What would be empathetic, yet more delicate? She sipped. Before she could come up with something, he said, “She was just practice.”

    Whoa! She hadn’t expected that: a rather harsh judgment on someone he had loved for ... what, six months? All that laughter, the hand-holding, the gentle touches they tried to hide when the group was together on some outing or sitting at dinner – all reduced to “practice?” She brought the cup to her lips, giving herself time to think.

    He must have recognized her confusion, as he sent a smile her way that was genuine -- that almost mischievous grin that made people comfortable to be close to him. She relaxed and smiled back.

    “When someone special in your life goes, someone who matters, it leaves a void, like part of you being pulled away. It’s hard to face that void.” Now he drank, thought a moment, and continued.

    “Every experience we have is practice for the next. It’s the only way I can absorb the loss in any positive light. Then, instead of facing an incomprehensible void, one moves ahead into the familiar chaos of life with a bit more experience, a little better prepared to meet whatever’s next.”

    She swirled the foam and took a sip. Preparation. Practice. “Can you really sum her up as just ‘practice?’ Is it that easy?”

    He let out a laugh that was part mirth, part angst. “No, no, it’s not easy. Not when our emotions are fully invested. But it’s better than feeling totally lost. Keeps the pain down, makes you look forward -- faster than otherwise, anyway.

    “It also puts a good spin on it, a good perspective. Sounds like I’m just casting her aside, I know. But it’s really a way of honoring her, our time together. She gave me love then, but also something I can take forward with me now: strength, experience, a store of love to last me ‘til I find more.” He picked up his cup and spoke into it: “No, it’s never easy.”

    She didn’t say anything, didn’t feel the need. He was goring through a tough time, but he seemed to be handling it. Practice: maybe that wasn’t such a bad way to look at things, at failed attempts, at relationships that didn’t work out. “Just practice.” The words did get you focused forward.

    She frowned. Would the next thing turn out to be “just practice” too? And the next after that? Did nothing really matter? And if it did, and that failed, then what was all that practice for? This was beginning to sound like existentialism, lost in an endless spin.

    “If everything’s just practice, practice for what?” Her words seemed to linger in the space between them.

    He shifted in his chair; then, as if gathering his thoughts, he spoke. “Maybe it’s not one thing or one person that’s the answer. I think we draw a little from people who have fascinated us, have given and shared and taken --- exchanged. People with whom we have exchanged something. We breathe all that in; it adds to who we are, becomes part of us. Then we move on, warmed. Perhaps what we are trying to find in life is actually within us. We look outside, questing some external answer, when actually we are building the answer inside ourselves – our own unique recipe. A little of this person, a little from that adventure, a dash of caution from that calamity. We are perfecting our own recipes of character.”

    He leaned back and looked at her. “To get it right, to test, to taste, we need practice. Lots of practice.”

    She met his smile with her own, raised her cup and said, “Here’s to practice.” The clink of ceramic sounded like the beginning of something new.
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