A Moment of Pure Happiness: Mercedes Half Marathon, 2013

On Saturday afternoon, I helped officiate at the funeral of a young man who was murdered. From where I sat, I saw the tears running down the faces of the pallbearers, young men, all of them. I saw the family’s devastation. As we recessed at the end of the funeral, I saw row upon row upon row of grief and sorrow. I was glad there were so many of us there for the family; I was so mindful that whatever we might have to offer in the way of comfort and consolation was but a drop of water in a desert of loss and desolation. No parent should have to bury their child, no one should have to die too young, too violently, too senselessly.

Perhaps as poignant as that afternoon have been the pictures that found their way to Facebook of a young man who was obviously droll and funny. Who shared a mop of gloriously red hair with his twin sister and baby sister. Who posted videos that allowed those of us who had not yet met him to get a sense of his musical gifts. Who stands goofing off with his father in one of the pictures where you can see the laughter and the joy and above all, the love they share.

This morning, a dear friend posted a picture of her parents’ wedding. The picture shows two young, gorgeous, radiant young people. My friend’s mom died too soon after that picture, in a horrible car accident that killed her and her toddler son, my friend’s baby brother. There would be far more loss and devastation ahead for my friend.

I find myself looking at my friend’s picture and the pictures of the young man we buried with new eyes. I am so aware of the happiness—in part, because I know the happiness was not as long-lasting as we all desperately hope for—for ourselves, and even more, for those we love. Perhaps it is another small reminder of my age, my vocation, the life I have lived, that I no longer take happiness for granted. I know too well how short-lived it can be. What I also know, though, is this: no matter how long or how short a time of happiness, the happiness is real. That moment that was captured, of A. and T. goofing around for the camera, that very traditional and singular wedding portrait my friend shared—that happiness was vividly, beautifully, purely real. You can’t capture it in a bottle, can’t stop time, can’t make it be more real than other parts of life. But neither can those moments be denied or diminished.

On Saturday afternoon, Andrew, the rector at Ascension preached a lovely homily riffing on what continues to be for me, the most powerful phrase of the Rite of Burial in the Book of Common Prayer: “All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” That was the phrase that got me through my mom’s death, that is the phrase I hold on to with all my might, still. And it is precisely, because we have known happiness that we are able to sing those Alleluias. For some this may seem a morbid, angst and gloom-filled assertion. For me, it is a fierce declaration and defense of the happiness that was, and is, and is to be.


In deep winter


We are lent to each other for a very short time. These days, I am confronted with that truth to an extent that sometimes feels overwhelming. If you include the pauper funerals we’ve done since I was hired in September of last year, my boss and I have taken turns officiating at 19 funerals. We have two more at the end of the week, one of them particularly difficult because of the age of the young man we will bury, the son of a member of our congregations who died in tragic circumstances.

The time of death is so raw, fraught and confusing, whether there’s a large family involved or no family at all, whether death has been long expected and comes as a relief, or crashes into a family and leaves it shattered.   Words, especially mine, just don’t add up to much though that does not let me off the hook for stumbling through prayers, meeting and extending my condolences to a daughter as she looks at her mother’s casket for the first time at a cemetery where the wind is whipping cold. With each funeral I am asked to officiate for, I am more moved and more grateful for the words, the rhythms, the way in which the Episcopal Church Rite of Burial can bear the burden of death and allow for dignity, celebration and sorrow, all at once.

I don’t have much time for reflection and insight. These days, I make a to-do list early in the morning and work it through the day. I am grateful for incredibly small things: those who know me well know how much I despise driving, especially maneuvering in reverse. I’ve mastered backing into our driveway so when morning comes, I am good to go with a minimum of fuss. Such a small thing that gives me a sense of accomplishment and also makes my life easier. I am also grateful for the brief moments of connection with all kinds of people who let me see a glimpse of who they are before we move on. I am grateful for the fireplace that welcomes me in from the cold and the feel of cool sheets when I crawl into bed at night, so tired that going to sleep is my prayer.

Twelfth Night

Ascension at Christmas is something to behold.  I love our angels all around the church; somehow, with the Christmas decorations up, they are especially dear.  I have also been taken by the nativity scene in the chapel, with its many animals, now that the three kings have arrived to see the child born of Mary.  Tonight we will have a Twelfth Night Celebration–a procession, camel and all–and do the traditional chalking of the doors around our campus before entering to have a feast. Twelve tables have been set up, each with a nativity set.  We will sing the Twelve Days of Christmas with each table required to act out one of the verses. I suspect by the end of the song, things will be quite rowdy and raucous.

I am thankful for all these different ways we remind, no, we refuse to allow ourselves to forget, that we are flesh and body and bone and so is the mystery of God’s love.  This business of faith is no easy abstraction nor is it even reducible to an act of the imagination. Everything about faith these days is about incarnation for me. My dad came up to visit us for Christmas and as we talked in those early days of his visit, it became clear that we needed to try to get him moved in with us.  Because of the legal maze that involves, my dad is not able to return to his home until the process to get a permanent resident/green card is complete, maybe as long as 6-8 months from now.

That means I watched my dad get so cold his teeth chattered yesterday–his 88 year old body is so not used to the winter weather. That means seeing grief, like I last saw the day my mom died, etched on his face, this time because bringing his dogs, his family, to join him is probably not possible. For me, it means waking up in the middle of the night, mind racing at the implications of such change, and making myself breathe slow and deep, so the tension can loosen its grip, so I can say my simple prayers out loud and let my own voice speak of God’s abiding, trustworthy ways.

It means that tonight, a clear cold night we will have of it in Lowndesboro, I have to remind myself to go out and look up. To have these eyes and this skin that feels the cold, and these ears that hear the rustling sounds of the country means to take in the night with all its magnificence.  All the beautiful colors of Christmas, the whimsical, playful, intriguing and beguiling smells, tastes and sounds of Christmas hush and fade.  And still, there is a star.DSCN2582