Passage making

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My younger brother took the picture of this sailboat when my siblings and I spent two weeks with my dad on an island in the Stockholm archipelago a few years ago. The picture captures all the grace and beauty and marvel of a vessel under sail. I have been out sailing when wind conditions were like this and our good vessel Promise sliced effortlessly through the water; the blue of the Gulf Stream off Fort Lauderdale was infinitely indigo blue in the sun. It is glorious.

To get out to the big water from our home on a canal in SoFla, Sherod and I would steer Promise through the New River, an urban version of river, a version that is cornered and hemmed in by seawalls and criss-crossed with drawbridges. Often too, I’d sit in my car at stoplights on Davie, on Andrews Avenue, on 3rd Avenue in Fort Lauderdale, when a bridge went up to allow boats through. Because the river was so hemmed in and sailboats shared space with enormous yachts and power boats, they made their passage through with gallant awkwardness, bobbing and tilting, masts naked and exposed. Next to the shiny, sleek powerboats, sailboats looked nothing so much as well-intentioned tubs floating down river.

When Sherod and I would make that passage, there was always that small thread of anxiety that weaves its way through the body as you hope your muscle memory still works and your reflexes are sharp enough if a wake is unexpectedly strong or a current catches your bow just so. But it also didn’t matter a bit that we bobbed and weren’t as fast, or as big or as beautiful as others sharing the waterway with us. There was the thrill of anticipation that past Port Everglades, I’d steer into the wind, Sherod would raise the mainsail, give me a point of sail and fabric that had been flapping uselessly would begin to tighten and fill enough to cut the motor off and take flight.

Today, it is I who am a somewhat ungainly, but seaworthy vessel that has left port. When our previous rector left Ascension, I knew I would need to carry my work lightly, that a new rector might want someone else to work alongside him or her. Then I began to face into the reality of how I found myself being tugged and pulled by tides and wakes, and by the certainty that being at port no longer felt right. A few weeks ago the lines began to loosen. The rector of a parish in Montgomery that has seen its fair share of hardship and is in a neighborhood that was once upscale and is now a boulevard across from urban blight, announced his resignation. I made some inquiries about what would come next and realized I could and should ask to be considered when they started looking for an interim. I was told it would be a 1-year assignment, that normally the Bishop does not allow an interim to stay on as rector. It was scary to let go of Ascension for something that felt so fragile and temporary. But it also was wonderful letting go of some comfort in exchange for adventure.

Two weeks ago, I began a conversation with the leadership group assigned to fill the interim position. The conversation was lively. The tug was there, even stronger. A week ago Sunday we met, this time face to face. The conversation continued and ran long, still lively, still intriguing. I had made my peace with the fact that all I could expect to have was a year of interim work. Not a lot of time, but enough to start figuring the next step to take after that. As the second conversation wrapped up, a heart-stopping surprise: the Senior Warden had found out that there was an alternative to the route we were discussing. The discernment team could choose instead to go with a longer term assignment for someone to serve as priest-in-charge. Over an 18 month or so assignment they and the priest-in-charge would then decide whether or not to convert the position to a tenured rectorship. Somewhat awkwardly, we felt that possibility out with each other and I drove home trying to manage my sense of elation.

This past Sunday, the vestry at Holy Comforter met and unanimously agreed to call me as their priest-in-charge. Yesterday, the senior warden called to extend the call and I accepted. Announcements are going out. Calendars and schedules are being revised.

The passage has begun.

There are currents to navigate; some of them run swift. We are all moving in some pretty tight spaces, finding our way around each other, making sure not to leave anyone bobbing in an unnecessary wake. I am making my path out to the big waters. It’s not just that I feel awkward and and vulnerable, along with elated. It’s that I look ahead, beyond the passage out from this place I have made my church home for three years, and find myself repeating the Breton Fisherman’s Prayer over and over again: Oh God, thy sea is so great, and my boat is so small…

Life begins again


Tux with red bow with Sherod

I was Daisy’s human companion and she was my friend in a way I had not experienced before. There were always  dogs in my parents’ home and dogs in Sherod’s and my home—it’s just that They were always “Sherod’s dog”, or my mom’s or my dad’s.  I went looking for Daisy and when we found each other, even though there were other people inhabiting our house, I was hers and she was mine in a deep, unshakeable sense and I never stopped being awed by her joy when I came home after work or after a trip or outing.  I cannot count the number of times she slept on my lap while I read or sewed or watched TV.  The list goes on.  I was already over 50 when I became the human companion of a dog and I never took the grace of that life and presence in my life for granted.  When grief visits these days, and I miss my girl terribly, I remember what unanticipated joy she brought.

Almost as soon as she died, I realized how much having that companionship had meant to me—how much I needed it.  I set out to find a new friend to welcome into my life, not because I was ‘over’ my Daisy or needed a replacement, but because Daisy made my heart bigger and gave me more space to love and care.  Along with some measure of guilt because I decided I would try to find a Miniature Schnauzer puppy, rather than an adult rescue dog, I also accepted about myself that there has been a lot of loss and there is probably a lot of loss ahead for me as well. My heart yearned for the kind of new beginning that tending to a young creature entails.

I found a few people who were neither breeding ‘high end’ trophy dogs nor were puppy mills and plotted a plan to visit a few with the aim of bringing home a little one in the fall.  The first place was in the northern part of Alabama and on an early Saturday morning, my dad, one of my dearest friends, and I piled in my car and headed up the road.  When we arrived, we were met by Miss Doris, one of those stern, stoic country women who live a hard life and aren’t easily impressed by much of anything.  But the dogs she had were lively and well cared for; one looked just like my Daisy, and the place was clean.  When she was with her dogs, she melted and spoke so sweetly and kindly to them that it was obvious it was these beautiful creatures that she could connect with much more easily than us.

She had a dame with a litter that would be ready to get released around the time I had been planning to bring a puppy home.  But there was one little girl sitting in a separate area, looking both forlorn and curious.  She was the last of a litter and had been reserved by someone who refused to take her home, demanded her money be returned because she had wanted a completely black pup.  This one had white paws and a flame on her chest so she was not good enough.  My dad, my friend and I took turns holding her and there was no doubt for me. I called Sherod to ask what he would think of me bringing a puppy home that day and he just laughed. He said, “I knew you’d get one today. Come on home and bring her.” As we walked back to the office area to do the paperwork, Miss Doris held this 8 week old in her hands, rubbing on her head and saying, “I told you you were going to have your very own family.”  I am struck that she, like Daisy, and even like Luz Maria, came to us because others would or could not have her.  

There’s quite a bit of accommodating that goes one to make room for a puppy.  She’s at the place where she wants to chew everything; sometimes we let too much time go by before letting her out to do her business and we’ll find a little puddle of piddle.  A few times its been more than just that.  The first time she saw her ‘big brother, Mo’, she yelled like a banshee and her heart raced against the hand I held her in. Mo too had a hard time with her at first. though now they play in the morning and evening until they wear each other out.  I’ve been able to take her to work at least a couple of times a week where she naps draped across my foot a lot of the time . When I have to go do something, someone else on the staff watches her or I put her in a doggie play pen I got for her, along with the squeaky toys she adores.  

This past year has been a time of huge shifts underfoot for me, with the departure of the rector who hired me to serve as the associate rector at Ascension. The shifts continue and there is very little clarity about what lies ahead.  Associate rectors in particular, are called to hold their jobs very lightly in this kind of transition.  It’s not a comfortable, easy place to be.  And all that finds its proper place in my life when my new girl, Tux (short for Tuxedo) has worn her little self out and settles against me, puppy breath and tiny grunts included, for a rest. She reminds me that I have been most blessed by allowing myself to have and hold what others had passed over, as well as to let go of the scripts I come up with for how the path ahead should look. 

With her, life begins again.