This morning I left the house at 6:45 a.m. The city slept, still and serene. The horizon warmed little by little into orange and gold at the approach of the rising sun. The wind flew violently through the trees and the wind chimes clanged. I felt like a theater-goer watching the dimly lit stage, my heart beating in the hush before the opening scene of a play. What would this day hold?

Something I never imagined.

Last summer I spent several beautiful and eye-opening weeks with a farming family in Catawba. I lived, worked, ate, and played with them. They taught me farm work and introduced me to a rich and meaningful way of life. Ginger and Philip, the mother and father, and their children Thomas, Patrick, Maggie, Rose, and Nora, become dear to me.

This morning I got a phone call from a friend. She told me that Philip died last night at the farm.

I liked Philip immediately when I met him last summer. He sauntered into the kitchen and greeted me, a shy newcomer, as if I already was one of the family. Then he started telling stories. And I found myself laughing. He would go on and on with his jokes and I would laugh and laugh until I lost control. We were like children.

One day I was braiding onions to hang on the porch to dry. He walked in and started up a conversation. I think we covered every topic under the sun. He meandered toward the door to go feed the pig, but kept lingering. He spoke with strength and candor and passion. He conveyed the irony, humor, and wisdom of someone who had traveled many places and seen many things.

I miss him.

And my prayers are with the wife and children who tonight are yearning for Philip and watching his empty chair at the table.