Last Sunday, at about 5 o’clock in the evening, I hit send on an email and that was it. The very last item on my to-do list for Ascension. It was some paperwork I had to do for a couple that’s getting married, and it was joyful work. I thought, ‘was a lovely way to end this run.’ There had been a somewhat rough pair of moments earlier in the day, as I got to the end of my sermon at each of the 2 services. There was all manner of kindness and grace showered on me as I said some more goodbyes. After the principal service I did an adult Baptism. Repeatedly at the communion rail in the three or so preceding hours, I had looked at chubby, gorgeous little babies and thought, “I baptized you.” “And you.” “And you too.” One, who I saw for the first time at the rails as a days-old infant, reached out a little hand, looked me in the eye, and waited. Until that moment, I had always given him a blessing at the rail. Now, he was ready to participate in communion and I swear, these littlest ones amongst us know, in a way I wonder if we grown-ups know, about the mystery of kinship when we gather around God’s table. To have seen all those little ones and then, dip into the holy oil and make the sign of the cross on the forehead of a beautiful woman who has endured much and still believes in love, to say to her, “you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever: was indescribably beautiful.
By Monday morning, I was full throttle into puttering mode—a long lunch with a new and already dear friend, some cleaning and straightening out (way more left to do), a culinary adventure. I don’t know what got into me that made me decide I should make the Mexican version of Matzo Ball Soup—I read the recipe in the NY Times, it sounded good and I said, “I can make that.” Well, I could make the soup part—it is pretty spectacular. The Matzo balls? Uhhh. Not so much. Don’t know if I will ever practice again, but it was fun. More small projects and appointments and errands I’d put off for months and falling into bed at night without a worry, to sleep deeply, peacefully.
Several times, while I waited for Tux to pee this week, I got to stand for a long while admiring the dahlias I planted this spring, my first time ever, that have now bloomed. Last evening, Sherod and I splashed about in the pool late in the afternoon and I told him I wasn’t sure I could ever remember being so filled with simple contentment.
When I looked at my phone this morning, there was a text. That beautiful little girl I wrote about in the previous post was actively dying—and then died this afternoon. I will do the Rite of Burial for her on Saturday morning, a service that is as much about grieving as giving joyful thanks for a little life that was infinitely precious and beautiful. I am blessed to have the help of a fellow clergy woman who will officiate with me at the service and one day will baptize little V’s sister. Usually we have several days to prepare for a service like this, usually I am not on vacation. Never before had I actually already handed in my church keys because that was all I had left to do. In ministry, usually and never are probably not words that can get used a lot so these next two days will be busy.
Tonight Sherod and I had several friends over for a dinner we’d planned several weeks ago and the company was lovely. I wished, though, that I could be in two places at once—with a family bearing such grief, as well as with the people who laughed and giggled through dinner, telling tall Southern tales and having a Colombian meal. Tomorrow I will be back at the office, meeting V’s parents to finish planning what none of us ever want to plan for a beloved child. My colleague/friends at Ascension and I will do the work of coordinating with printers, getting bulletins folded, following up about flowers and whether or not the children’s pall at Ascension will work for Saturday.
Here’s what I think as I gather my thoughts late in the evening: you grab contentment and give thanks when you can. You make every effort to be a presence of some little bit of grace when the world has ended for a family. You make your peace with what you know you will not get to do for them, though you’d want to. And no matter how much you thought your work was done in one place, as you get ready to go to another, you accept that the work is not done till it is done.
I’ll need to figure out how to grab a bit more time of rest before too long—that thing of self-care comes into clearer focus on a night like tonight. But I stopped and reclaimed my Ascension keys for this weekend. I will fall asleep tonight praying for a mom and dad, a little sister, aunts and uncles, and puppy dogs and so many others, who will have a hole in their heart after today. It all gets distilled down to that amazing line by Buechner: “This is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” That line will guide me until the work is done.