The Post-Christmas Support Group – Part Two

December 18, 2011

Last week we heard from a strange green character and a man with the odd name of Scrooge of how they were dealing with the expectations of the Christmas Season.  There are more at this gathering who have their own stories…

“You should meet my lawyer, good man,” said the more kindly faced gray-haired man sitting next to Scrooge.

“Oh, I know you believe Gailey can perform miracles, Kris, but I think it would take more than that to wipe greed from men’s hearts,” replied Scrooge.

“Well, I guess I can’t argue with you there,” replied Kris.  “I remember it was decades ago I was saying to him, I’ve been getting more worried about Christmas. Seems we’re all so busy trying to beat the other fellow…in making things go faster, look shinier, and cost less…that Christmas and I are sort of getting lost in the shuffle.

Now it’s not just a Santa here or there that gets dragged into court.  The whole holiday is on trial it seems.  Stores that count on Chirstmas-spending to survive tell their employees not to even use the word.  People argue about whether it’s politically correct to wish someone you don’t know a ‘Merry Christmas.’”

It seemed the man was getting quite emotional as he went on, and perhaps the Grinch had seen him fly off on this topic before, because he interrupted,
“The world out there now has grown more diverse,” he said.
“And that at times can be a blessing and a curse.
There are people of all faiths, and skins of many colors
Some see Christmas as a symbol of how their faith isn’t as accepted as others
When so many have been hurt by the pressure to conform,
You can’t blame them for not wanting just one faith treated as the norm.

“Hmph,” Kris acknowledged the Grinch’s comments, but continued in the same vein as before. “I make no apologies that I was born and raised a Christian, and I believe the true spirit of Christmas is found in the gospels.  But, just like every person has love inside of themselves, everyone has Christmas inside of them, whether they choose to call it Christmas or something else.”

He continued, “I do know a thing or two about not fitting in.  I’ve been fortunate to have some very kind friends.” Kris continued.  “They welcome me even though they think I’m different.  I try to overlook the fact that they are concerned about my difference, and focus on the fact that they care about me.  But, it does get tiring being treated like you may be dangerous or are some kind of liar when it’s really everyone else that is telling themselves a lie.”

“I know what you mean,” said the Grinch. “Though I’ll add its not easy being green.”

“Well, I’m one man who knows how fortunate I am.” said the final man, who had a quite distinctive speaking style.  His story was particularly heart-warming.

“Everyone wants friends who they can count on in a really tough time,” George began, “Well, I’ve not only got great friends, but I know I can count on them, because I’ve been through that tough time.

“I know you’re all tired of hearing about this, but I can’t stop thinking about that Christmas Eve that I almost lost my business.”  He looked down at his empty hands as if he expected something to be there and for a moment reached out into the air as if to grab at something that had been taken from him.

“There’s that loose end of the money that my uncle lost.  I still can’t understand how it could have just disappeared without someone turning it in.  I have to admit, I’ve caught myself watching my friends and neighbors, waiting for one of them to show that they’ve got a little more spending money.  But the only person in town that seems to have any money is that Potter.  And well, I suppose I can’t feel too bad about that, since he’s because he’s been dying in the hospital for years now.  And that means he’s probably about as broke as the rest of us.”  George looked up from his hands, and smiled at the other man of business in the circle.  “That is, unless you decide to help him out, Ebeneezer.”

The others all laughed lightly, and Scrooge replied wisely, “You’re lucky to have that sense of humor, Bailey.  It’s probably part of why you have so many great friends.  And haven’t you told us that ‘no man is poor who has friends.’”

“True,” replied George. “I’ve learned that money isn’t the most important thing in the world, but life does go on and life takes money whether we like it or not.  I’ve got my life and my family, which are worth more than anything, but I’ve also got a lot of debt to those friends that I don’t know how I’m ever going to repay.  I worry about saddling my children with a great responsibility, and I know how that feels, having inherited my father’s business against my will.  I don’t want my son to be stuck behind a desk that’s stained with the sweat and tears of his father and grandfather.”

George concluded, “I know I’ve had a wonderful life so far, and the past does sustain me at times.  But the truth is, you can’t always keep looking back, and as hard as it is to see the role you’ve played in the past, it’s a heck of a lot harder to see how you’ll be able to keep making a difference in the future.  I’m getting tired.  Its hard to keep it going.”

Just then we heard the door open and someone running down the stairs.  A young, round-faced boy with glasses and wearing snowpants and a stocking cap bounded into the hall.  “Where’s the bathroom?” he asked.

To Be Continued… Can anyone get these characters out of the post-holiday funk?


A Holiday Story: The Post-Christmas Support Group – Part One

December 11, 2011

The busyness of the season has gotten the better of me.  Though I’ve got a lot of thoughts percolating in my mind, I don’t think I’ll have the time to corral them into the part of that organ that can actually create sense from them. So, for the next few weeks I’m going to be recycling a piece I wrote as a sermon a few years ago about the feeling that comes after the holidays.

Hope you enjoy.

PART ONE: A Most Strange Gathering

Whether you are the type of person who takes down your tree and decorations the second Christmas Day is over, or you are holding out until New Years, or perhaps even stretching out your decked halls until January 6th, the day of the Epiphany in the Christian tradition, many of us experience a feeling of loss when the holly and tinsel come down.  We are now faced with months more of winter with no carols to buoy our hearts with song, or special feasts to feed our souls with the companionship of friends and family.  At least, not without the same celebratory tone of Christmas.

When I take down my tree and stockings, I’m always struck by how the house seems not only bigger, but emptier.  Not only that, but with all the build up, it’s easy to feel disappointed if your Christmas didn’t bring peace on earth or Rockwell or Capra-esque healing of family.  It’s no wonder that many people experience a seasonal depression in the dark months of January and February.  Even Mary is reported to have had a pierced soul following the miraculous and joyous birth of Jesus.  What hope is there for the rest of us?

If you are feeling any of this disappointment and malaise, I wanted you to know you are not alone.  In fact, last year I heard some first-hand accounts of how difficult it is to emotionally recover from even the happiest holiday experiences.  I had stopped by my church to check on the heat, and four amazing characters were there in our basement gathered around coffee-hour table.  I’m not sure who called this impromptu support group, but no one seemed to be in charge or surprised to see the others, though they were a most unusual group.

Before I knew what was happening, the tallest and most unusual one of all had grabbed me by the arm and made me sit down next to him.  He then said hello and his name, and the others all greeted him in unison.  This was my first clue that it was a support group of some kind, which became even more clear when he continued with his story.

My doctor told me I should come here, and everyone takes his advice,
So my dog Max and I got in our sleigh, we didn’t think twice.
Though this Christmas was more joyful than any I’ve known,
I can’t help but feelings there’s something I’ve blown.
While I was gathered hand in hand with them on Christmas ‘morn
The Who’s were all welcoming and not the least was I torn.
I felt so happy to sit at their table and carve the Christmas beast,
The years I’d spent hating Who’s bothered me not in the least.
But the very moment the beast was all eaten and the celebrations came to an end,
It seemed there was no longer a place for me in the circle of Who-friends.
And I felt so sad as I thought of the cold journey up to my cave all alone.
It was a feeling I’d never had before my heart three-sizes had grown.
I’d spent nights without number contentedly hating those Who’s
But after that amazing Christmas, I had no idea what to do
I was ready to fill all the free time I now had with good deeds,
But some Who’s still treated me like I was nothing but a stealing sleaze.
The truth is true forgiveness takes time and effort from both sides
And some Who’s made it clear they don’t want to open their hearts wide
It feels like my invitation to be part of Whoville was for a short time only
And though I’m no longer grinchy, I have to say now I’m lonely.

Several of the others nodded their heads in understanding.

“I know what you mean about people not fully welcoming you because of your past,” said an elderly gentleman in a silk hat and black frock coat.  “But, for me, it’s worse than that. People either still treat me like I’m a horrible miser with no compassion for my fellow man.  Or, they expect me to be able to save the world’s problems because they’ve heard of my er… my well, let’s just say my change of heart.”

The other gray haired man next to Scrooge nodded empathetically.  “You mean they expect the impossible of you?”

“Well, yes,” Scrooge replied.  “I fully accept responsibility for my past.  In my younger years I did nothing to help my fellow man.  I was able to walk the streets of London and barely see the many destitute who are in need of the basic necessities of life.  Well, they say ignorance is bliss.  Maybe I wasn’t exactly happy, but… now.  After making sure that Tiny Tim got the medical care he needed, I was flooded with requests for help, and I’ve done my best.  But, paying for treatments of even small ailments are incredibly expensive.  It’s not as if I can change the entire health care system!  The Cratchet boy, thankfully, did not die, but there have been others.”

Here he stopped for a moment, and the rest of us watched as he struggled with his tears for a moment.  “I was blind to their pain before.  If I considered their deaths at all I could consider it a necessity due to the overpopulation.  For awhile, I thought that if I worked hard and gave everything I had, I could erase all that pain and suffering, but some things no amount of money can fix.”

At the word money, it seemed he gathered himself together some how.  The familiarity of a topic which could be dealt with rationally gave him some comfort, and he had a deep well of financial experience if little familiarity with the feeling of helplessness and sympathy.  “And, quite frankly, my business isn’t doing as well as it once was.  I was successful because people were afraid of me.  Now, there are many people who won’t settle their accounts with me, because they say they don’t have the money, and won’t kind, good-hearted Scrooge, just forgive their debts.  Meanwhile I see the tailors and the butchers and all kinds of services coming and going through their houses, and I’m sure they’re being paid quite handsomely.”

You could see  Scrooge’s resentment and discomfort with this new truth: that he could be taken advantage of.  He sighed, and went on, “I have to ask myself, who deserves the help, those who say they may loose their charming homes if I insist on my debts, or those who never had a home to begin with?  It shouldn’t be that hard of a question, but I really expected that once given a little help, some of these people would be more capable of helping themselves.

Meanwhile, if I refuse to help even the most obvious swindler, who doesn’t need a farthing from me, but dresses his children in rags and has them sobbing on my doorstep, I’m the ‘same old Scrooge,’ and it starts all over again.  The children fearing me, the women turning their faces away from me in disgust, and men talking about how no one will miss me when I’m dead.”

Will this Support Group Get These Characters Through Their Holiday Blues?  Who Else May Have a Story to Share?  To Be Continued…


Getting in the UU Spirit of the Season

December 4, 2011

Though the Earth is falling into dormancy, we humans are once again trying to make up for the fact that there is little warmth or sunlight by hanging decorations and working up a little more cheer and goodwill toward each other.  “The Holiday Season” has begun.

Yesterday my husband and I spent the day crossing off what we felt was a small to-do list of getting our tree, picking up some materials to make our cards, and taking a picture that we will use to design that little greeting we’ll send to family and friends.

Somehow that took every last minute of sunlight that December day had to give.  And though I did smile every time I saw a pretty red bow around a beautiful green wreath, and was heartened to see the Salvation Army folks getting their red kettles filled, I also saw plenty of the not-so-nice side of this frenzy.  People in stores muttering to themselves about not wanting to be there, stories on the radio about the retail figures being up, which is good, but that people are overspending, which is bad (and no recognition of the irony of reporting both these facts).

I know that even the very scaled back Christmas we’ll be having is a luxury, which is why I’m trying to make the very most of it.  We chatted with the nice man at the Christmas tree farm about how long he’d been growing his trees, why he chose to only grow balsams, and how many people he’d seen that day and where they were coming from.  As we drove away, I remembered the holiday pageant at my church a few years ago where I learned that one of the people credited with starting the Christmas tree ritual in America was a Unitarian.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Follen)

And, since there is still so much my husband and I still want to do before work on Monday morning, including designing that card on our computer and stringing up the lights on that tree, I’m going to cheat a little on this blog and end with a piece I wrote for my congregation’s holiday service a few years ago.  I borrowed the idea of using “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” as a kind of spoof from Christopher Raible.  His version is here, but mine turned out to be a little more sentimental.

 

UU Tidings

Rest your spirits and be merry people, let nothing you dismay.
Though times have changed there is still real truth to the tale Christmas Day.
O tidings of ever-lasting joy!

Every child born is a miracle to forever celebrate.
The one whom we call Jesus taught to turn the other cheek on hate.
But, like each of us, he was once small and in need of his mother’s care.
Look to the manger and see the love of every parent and child there.
O tidings of family and joy! Tidings of family and joy!

Mary’s midwives were animals as she laid her son upon the hay.
Now we remember our connection to all living things on the shortest day.
As the sun returns again to brighten our days and warm the earth.
We honor solstice as a time of light’s and spirit’s rebirth.
O tidings of nature and joy! Tidings of nature’s joy!

As shepherds held their tender vigil over the baby Nazarene,
So should we hold all people in our hearts, even those we’ve never seen.
The spirit of Christmas lives on all the year if we remember to be kind.
As Mary’s son would teach, I am your neighbor and you are mine.
O tidings of brotherhood and joy! Tidings of brotherhood and joy!

Angels may not appear in the skies above today with praises to sing.
Still, no less than a miracle occurs with the birth of every living thing.
As we pass by strangers, may we remember to take the moment to see
the divine sorrow and joy that exists in each of them, you and me.
To bring tidings of comfort and joy! Tidings of comfort and joy!

Tokens we receive and give are in remembrance of the three magi,
but the best gift of all is someone with whom to laugh and cry.
No matter how much the stores call us to rush and spend,
The greatest treasure I’ve received is to have you call me friend.
O tidings of giving and receiving joy! Tidings of giving and receiving joy!

You do not need songs from heavenly hosts or a virgin birth
to accept all beliefs and know that every person has inherent worth.
Though there are many different ways we chose to celebrate,
an open heart and open arms are all that’s required to bridge what separates.
O tiding of peace and joy! Tidings of peace that brings joy!


20 Years of Buy Nothing

November 27, 2011

Have you heard of Kalle Lasn?

Twenty years ago, this former advertising executive decided to put his talents toward promoting a different message: don’t buy stuff.  This year marked the 20th Anniversary of Buy Nothing Day, which Mr. Lasn and those who have joined his cause place on what is usually the biggest shopping day of the year: Black Friday, or the day after Thanksgiving, or that extra day you get off to make a long weekend, which most employers refer to as “in lieu of Veteran’s Day.”  Which leads me to another question, if you weren’t buying nothing, did you take time out of your shopping to thank a Veteran for their service to our country?

I first heard about “Buy Nothing Day” from a small group of do-gooders in my childhood congregation.  Around my junior year of high school that church started opening its doors to people who wanted to step out of the rat race of Christmas shopping the day after Thanksgiving. I remember even then, as a teenager and perhaps the height of my consumerist aptitude, feeling a profound relief that someone was saying “Don’t Buy” in the midst of all the “you must buy in order to have a merry Christmas, you must buy to let your loved ones know they are your loved ones.”  That day at church, the parishioners and their friends would gather to talk, perhaps make some crafts for gifts, bake cookies, have a nice lunch together, and think about the Western World’s penchant for over consumption.

In the decade plus since my first introduction to Buy Nothing Day, I have researched the founder and the non-profit he is connected to “Adbusters.”  Thanks to the increased accessibility to information, I’ve been able to get perhaps a broader view of each year’s efforts.  For instance, Kalle Lasn was also one of the main minds behind the recent Occupy Wall Street protests.  This year’s Buy Nothing Movement has a new tagline: Occupy Christmas.  Though I still applaud those who are performing in demonstrations or simply participating in this effort by buying less, overall I feel they have a better chance of bring down banks than stopping the average American from mindless consumption.

Ten years ago, it seemed that you heard about Christmas being over-commercialized as often as you heard Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.  Today, even more emphasis has been placed on the GDP and the media’s treatment of “the economy” makes you feel like you are being unpatriotic if you spend less than you are able.  Black Friday has stretched itself so sales actually begin on the night of Thanksgiving.  Many stores don’t even bother to close.  Sarah Josepha Hale, the woman who worked so hard for the establishment of a “genteel” holiday that celebrated hearth and home must be crying somewhere.

BTW, did you know that FDR tried to change the date of Thanksgiving to increase the holiday shopping season?  Do you know how he did that – by making Thanksgiving the second-to-last Thursday in November 1930, rather than the last.  There was public outcry and the next year our sacred holiday was put back in it’s proper place – the last Thursday of November.  And, in the decades since, we’ve found peace with having Christmas sales posters alongside our Halloween candy.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that in eighty years such a cultural shift could occur.  However, it still surprises me of how naive I am of other’s feelings about “stuff” that you may chose to buy.

One of my most fascinating classes in college was a course called “Material Culture.”  The course objective was to look at objects from our culture and others through various perspectives to examine conscious and unconscious messages that they hold.  Because of a long history and a very generous financial aid program, the College attracted a very diverse population of women from different racial, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, so it was a great opportunity to be exposed to many different ideas.  As wonderful as it was for me to attend classes with students dressed in African garb and to hear strange accents from all over the world, the most eye-opening experience I had in the class was a discussion with a woman from the to me strange place called New York City.

On that particular day, someone brought up the linguistic distinction between want and need.  This spurred the most heated debate of the semester.  When does something become a necessity?  When do we need an item, rather than want it?  However we got to that point in the discussion I do not remember, but one of these woman of my generation made the statement that she needed her $300 pair of shoes.  The class was almost evenly divided.  Was it possible to need such an extravagant item?  Nothing could convince the woman who made the comment that it was in actuality a want…she had been made to think it was a need.

I made the claim that you could only need something that met your physiological needs.  Hence, you may want the Nike’s, but a non-brand name will likely fit your needs.  Our professor, hoping to encourage more dialogue, asked me what one should do with the $100 difference on these two brands of shoes, if the shopper in question did indeed have unlimited buying power.  I did not give much thought before I answered with a shrug, “give it to charity.”  My response was met with a chorus of ostentatious groans.

The majority of my class obviously felt like George Costanza when it came to charitable giving.  Remember the “Human Fund” from Seinfeld? In one particular episode, the character of George receives a card stating that a donation has been made in his name to a children’s charity.  “Don’t you see how wrong that is!”  George exclaims.  “I gave him Yankee tickets, he gave me a card that said I’m giving your gift to someone else!”  He goes on to protest gift-giving should be an eye for an eye.  Is that what we all secretly believe now?

Today, if you Google Buy Nothing Day or Kale Lasn, you will get some articles that share his background as well as his efforts with Occupy Wall Street and Buy Nothing Day.  Very few of these are from the big-media outlets who may give a brief mention, but are much more likely to be reporting on sales figures as if they were the best or only measure of our country’s well-being.  Thanks to the many online article that allow readers to “post a comment” you may also see many people accusing him of being a hypocrite or worse attributes.  Some are general, some point to a specific statement or action that seems to prove him a hypocrite.

I’ve been thinking about how often we like to “disprove” someone’s message by pointing to something about their character or their past.  As if the truth or words is absolutely linked to the person who says them, rather than truth and positive being able to reside in the mouth of even the most horrible human being.  That will probably turn into another blog…


I Think I Sold My Soul to Twitter

November 20, 2011

This week I did something that for years I considered unthinkable:  I opened my own Twitter account.

Though the media loves to talk about all the ways that tweets might change the world, I don’t think it will ever be the only driving force shaping our society.  Even though there have been studies that this new technology is already changing the structure of our brains, I believe people will continue to need human-to-human in the real world connections.

As a reformed English major, I take a certain pride in the fact that I still like to communicate in full sentences.  If my first tweet taught me anything, it’s that my sentences tend to be VERY full in their first iterations.  And, if writing this blog has taught me anything, it’s that I take quite a while to get to anything resembling a point in my communication.  But, the world is changing, and I realized that many of the people I admire are saying things in 144 characters or less.  I didn’t want to miss out on what was being shared.

And, because I am at heart an extreme extrovert trapped in a introvert’s low esteem, I knew I’d end up tweeting myself.  Of course, if you’ve read any of my previous blogs you know I don’t have any trouble talking about myself and what’s going on in my life.  But, I was challenged by the space constraints of this new-to-me social media. I know I will find it hard to adapt to shorthands.  As it is, I prefer to write “funny” to “lol.”

Twitter also leaves little to no room for caveats.  And caveats are my modus operand i.  Ask anyone who ever was kind enough to sit through one of my sermons: I always have to explain myself or offer an aside to the opposing viewpoint.  So perhaps Twitter is an opportunity to grow spiritually.  It will force me to express only one thought at a time. This would be such a stretch for me that maybe it would allow me to achieve some deeper knowledge of myself through perhaps the most shallow of communication methods.

For now, however, it’s just been a place where I can find things to laugh about.  I have only subscribed to a few celebrities’ feeds, and they have been full of sarcastic humor – my favorite kind.

Lately, I’ve been joking that my best friend is Craig Ferguson – we’ve just never met.  Ferguson makes me laugh on a daily basis and I’m constantly amazed by how much we have in common.  I even finish his sentences in a somewhat disturbingly regular amount considering he doesn’t even know who I am – unless he pays an unrealistic amount of attention to the subscribers of his Twitter feed. He was the number one reason I opened that Twitter account, because he talks about “the Tweetie,” as he calls it on his late night talk show that my husband and I watch almost religiously.

It’s an unfortunate part of my personality that I’ve always found it easier to express my appreciation for celebrities than I am able to form real connections with the people I share my “in-real-life” with.  I’ve been that way as long as I can remember, and believe me it’s something I’m trying to change.  But, while I struggle to keep and maintain relationships, it’s oh so tempting and cheaply rewarding to take the little peek into the minds of people I admire from afar.

From what I’ve witnessed so far, the difference between Twitter and facebook is that you don’t have to be “friends” you can follow and have a one-sided relationship.  You can be follow what someone else writes/thinks/tweets, but they don’t have to be bothered by what is on your mind.  Is that the modern way?  Have we given into our voyeuristic side of the species, and didn’t anyone notice? Are we all just sending twittering at each other, rather than communicating with each other?

And do any of these tweets actually mean anything?  The written word has always power.  That’s why people still try to ban books.  But, what about today when “publishing” is as simple as touching a few keys – and voila anyone in the world can see what’s on your mind.  Hypothetically, of course.

The reality is that just because anyone CAN read your thoughts out there on the Internet, the vast majority of people will never stumble upon your little corner of the cyber universe.  In fact, we may be communicating with far fewer people than fifty years ago when the poor deprived homo sapiens were literally tied to technology that could transmit your voice across the country, but demanded you were attached to a particular device and that the person who was to receive your message was in a precise place and willing to pick up an identical device.

What does this have to do with religion?  Well, I believe more and more that religion is just another word for trying to connect.  If technology is the way we chose to connect, I think it is important to examine how that connection changes us.  Who do we chose to connect to?  How do we keep those connections going?  What happens when a connection breaks?

Hold that thought, I think I may have another Tweet from Craig…


Remembering Ben

November 12, 2011

I inherited an unfortunate superstition from my grandmother, who often said that death comes in three’s.  Though I have since rejected many of the beliefs that she practiced – taking communion or going to confession, for example – the triad of death theory has stuck with me.

Actually, I have modified it over the years to believe that death comes in four or five.  Even when I was a girl it was that way.  The first news of someone close to our family passing away would come, and my grandmother would tense.  Mostly of grief, but I could tell it was also her fear and anticipation of what may come next. Who of the many people she would care about would pass away soon, and how would the news come?

So, like any kind of negativity, when you’re looking for it or paying more attention, it seemed that word what could be counted as death’s two and three come quickly.  A casual friend’s aunt, a coworker’s mother-in-law.  “Good,” my Nana would say, “we’re done now.” And she would dutifully say her prayers for these acquaintances, perhaps even more fervently for the guilt she felt for being relieved at the news of their passing.

And, then, when our guards were down, something else would happen.

So when I received a phone call from my minister on Thursday, most of me thought it would be some mundane news of a fundraiser or some upcoming vote for our congregation.  But, in my heart I knew I was making the same facial expression that my grandmother would make when she readied herself for heartbreaking.  The “oh, I knew it wasn’t going to be that easy” face.

The story my minister called to share could not have been more different than the news of the young man who died in an accident earlier this month.  She had called to tell me that Ben, an older man I had known for over a decade, had passed away after a long fight with a disease he had mostly kept quiet from his friends in our congregation. Rather than a great shock on what should have been a normal day of many years left to live, this death was emotionally and spiritual planned for by the deceased.

Grief is grief.  No matter how long someone lives, those who love them and are left behind wish it was longer.  But, even at the same moment I grieved for the loss of this wonderful person, I was comforted by the details my minister shared with me because he had the chance to prepare not only for himself, but his loved ones.

He had died at home after some weeks of hospice. Being an extremely thoughtful and spiritual man, he had prepared a letter for his family to read after he passed.  I of course don’t know the details, but am certain no matter the words the content was love and hope for their futures.  He asked that they sing one of his favorite hymns as they faced the time ahead of them without their beloved husband, father, and friend.

It’s a hymn that we often sang at my church, and is one of my favorites, too.  I will probably always think of Ben when I hear it now.

What more could anyone ask for, whether you are the one leaving life behind, or the person that must say goodbye and keep living?

Perhaps what we all hope for is that our lives will have made a positive impact in some way.  Ben’s certainly did.  He had good friends as well as the family he loved.  Many of these friends he met while running used bookstores, where he’d have great discussions with his customers, whom he valued and respected.
And, in a conversation that took probably less than five minutes, Ben changed my life.

I had been serving as the Interim Minister at our congregation for probably a few months, and was still waiting for someone to say that I should be removed from the pulpit.  I had no training, and honestly, no business leading services except for the fact that my inherent curiosity about and love for UU theology and history meant I enjoyed researching and writing sermons.  But, all the time I was telling myself this year of transition for congregation was a brief foray into church leadership for me.  I would hold things together the best I could, and that would be the end of anything like ministry for me.

And then, during coffee hour, Ben pulled me aside and spoke to me in his plain but sincere way.  He made me look at myself and my future in an entirely different way.  He also made me realize something I was denying from my past.  The full effects of that conversation aren’t something I’m ready to blog about, yet.  But, I was changed by Ben’s words and they will probably always be with me.

His wife later shared that he had been uncertain whether to talk to me at all, and had debated writing a letter or saying nothing at all.  I’m so glad he followed his heart and shared the thoughts he had with me, even if it didn’t end with me enrolling in seminary as he may have wished for me.

If nothing else, his example taught me that when you have something positive to share about a person, it’s a gift to them as well as yourself to say it. Your words may not cause any radical change in their life. But why waste an opportunity to do something as minor as change a facial expression to a smile or look of surprise?

You never know who or when or how your life will be changed on any given day. But, you feel blessed when it is.  I feel blessed to have known Ben and to feel that I earned the respect of such a remarkable man.  And, had it not been for the existence of that small congregation we both belonged to, I might never have met him.  That’s something I’m feeling blessed for, too.


UUism and Tragedy

November 6, 2011

This week I received the sad news that an eighteen-year old friend of my congregation died in a car crash.

I did not know the young man well at all, but his family was part of my church when I was most involved there a few years ago.  Since we were throughout that time a “family”-sized congregation, I did feel close to the entire family, even if I only had a few conversations with the then pre-teenage boy and his sister.

So, what does a UU do when they learn of this kind of tragedy?  Of course, my heart went out to the family and I sent a note with my own remembrance of what a vibrant person the young man was.  Of course, I spent some time reflecting on the great loss both to the family and the larger community.

But, that’s as far as Unitarian-Universalism will get you. Our faith doesn’t offer answers like heaven to soothe the pain of a loss such as this.  It doesn’t give you prayers to say or even the social demand for a funeral with certain familiar rituals.  Once again, our chosen faith demands that we find a way to deal with being human with only the tools our humanity can give us.

We might hold memorial services and share stories of the person we’ve lost, but the family has not yet chosen to do so.  We might find a charitable organization to give to in lieu of sending flowers to a grand service. We might simply take a walk and reflect on how precious our own lives and all our loved ones are.  Or, we may sit in front of a computer typing away and staring at a bunch of words in an attempt to process this, and find that they all just seem wrong.

You can really beat yourself up just for your thoughts when you try to wrap your mind around a sudden tragedy like this.  So, rather than as long a blog as I might normally write, I’ll just share the thoughts that were most helpful to me.
It is a tribute to the human soul that even someone who was basically a stranger may miss any of us when we were gone.

I used to think other faiths do have an advantage over UU’s in their pre-set rituals and answers for death.  It is a comfort to have rituals to perform and answers ready if you can believe them.  But, over the years as I’ve lost people I cared about, I’ve begun to think we may have something even better.

We never expect anyone to be perfect when they are alive, so we need not deify them afterward.  That gives us so much more freedom to remember and keep them in our hearts as they were. It is the memories, both good, bad, or even a little strange that allow our spirits to live on. So when we lose someone, we can and should take each memory as a gift and try not to make it fit in what you are expected to feel about that person at that moment.

In that way, we can continue to love them as we should love and be loved: wholly and honestly.