Eager for joy

Today I had lunch with a friend I had not seen since we graduated from seminary almost twenty-five years ago.  It was a lovely time and it did my heart good to reconnect and fill in two and a half blank decades.

She arrived at our house after I learned of the suicide of someone I knew (not well), worked with from time to time, and enjoyed.  My friend has been a chaplain to children in hospice, so she knows her way around grief and shock.  Over lunch I said to her something along the lines that sometimes the sadness is too much.  She looked at me with empathy and knowing and agreed, yes.  Sometimes the sadness is too much.

But I have decided I will not let sadness win, or at least I will not let sadness be the only player in the game.  I will not pretend that things aren’t awful, like cancer or suicide or addiction or the threat of nuclear war, but I won’t let those things have the only word.

I’m looking for joy everywhere go, and now and then I see it.  It’s usually pretty small, almost undetectable, so I have to look hard.

Right now I’m finding joy in this playlist I made to provide music for Thanksgiving cooking.  It includes some big ol’ hymns sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir with full orchestra, because I am a hymn nerd.  It also includes anthems our church choir sang for All Saints Day (No Time, Unclouded Day), songs sung at a recent wedding, a blessing in Maori, and bad pop music because if there’s something I love, it’s a one-hit wonder.  (Thanks, Donna Lewis and Walk the Moon!)

I find joy in my daughter and husband and our terrier mix.  I find joy in making art.  I find joy in seeing the huge amount of food donations brought to church, and joy in all those advocating for the poor, for things like living wages and health care for all and truly affordable housing.

It’s like there is a glass, and it has water in it, and some day it may be that all the water will be gone.  But it may be that some day someone will refill the glass. But for now, there is water to drink.

For now, joy is still competing with sadness and almost winning.


glas of water



Foul-weather friends

If we weren’t in the midst of a hellish travail, it would be interesting to pay attention to who shows up when we’re in some sort of a crisis.

For as long as I can remember I’ve known the phrase ‘fair-weather friend’ – the kind of person who’s there when life is sunny and you’re at the top of your game, the kind of person who can’t be around tears or silent grief, shame, or failure of any kind.

But I’ve known people who are foul-weather friends. I won’t hear from them for months or years, but if there’s a crisis, they are there with a phone call or email or casserole.  And somehow they know just what to do – how to be present without being pushy, just when to express the gallows humor, to bring the big box of kleenex and not the little travel-size pack.

The best sort of friend to be, I suppose, is the all-weather friend, the one who’s there in that wedding vow sort of way – in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want.

One of the worst moments of my life (so awful I will not recall it here) came when I was away from friends but there was a handful that knew I was facing a terrible difficulty.  They didn’t call me, but when I called them, they picked up.  When I whispered the plea ‘please pray for me’ I knew they would.  I got through it, in part because I was supported by these people invisibly tied to my heart in good times and bad.  They showed up again, months later, for one of the happiest moment of my life.

If it were one of those forced-choice quizzes, would I rather be a fair-weather friend or a foul-weather one?

Truth be told, a foul-weather one.  Friendship takes time and energy and if I’m going to spend some of that time or energy, I’d rather spend it with someone in a bind rather than sitting back and sipping mojitos on some exotic beach with a friend who just won the lottery.

But if I were standing in front of the pearly gates and St. Peter were checking my account, would I be found faithful in my friendship?  Would he say, “There is joy abundant and you missed out on that”?  Or would he say, “You showed up when it was hard and the dawn was far off”?

I’ve realized the gift of so many kinds of friendship lately, and I’ll take what I get, which is folks who show up in the rain, and folks who show up in the sunshine, and folks who bring umbrellas, and folks who bring casseroles.

May I do the same.


And now we are women

We were so young then. Our parents would laugh at that, of course, from their vantage point; to them, we are still young, will always be young, or at least younger than they are.

Just to say that is to acknowledge that we know each other’s parents, a luxury not found among friends made in later adulthood, when we don’t have friends to the house for the weekend, when the parents aren’t there for graduations and weddings because those have all past and are now the things that belong to our children and not to us. It is lovely to reconnect with old friends, the friends who knew you when. It’s not so much a feast of nostalgia as much as it is an unexpected delight to discover an old friend in her adult years, to see her shaped by career and marriage and parenthood and aging parents and disappointment and hardship, knowing that the laughs we once shared have been sustaining, at least a little, even as the reconnection hints at laughs yet to come.

My friends are amazing women. They have grown into their beauty: the natural gray highlights, the eye creases that make smiles more real, the knowledge now of what to do with eyebrows and moustaches and lipstick. Our bodies that grew babies are different, but we’re still the types we were: the amazon; the chubby one who has such a pretty face; the long-legged beauty; the chesty one who fretted over their size but secretly loved them.

Personalities are being distilled; we’re not as concentrated as our parents are becoming, but still we are more us than we were in our late teens and early twenties. We looked forward to conquering the world, or at least our little corner of it. One would become a Broadway star, another, a PR tycoon, another, a world-traveling lawyer.

And we did some of that but never as much as we dreamed of. Instead, we discovered the elegance of compromise, and learned for ourselves, with regret and relief, that we can’t have it all, and maybe we never really did want it all. We gave up a little here so that we could have a little there; our choices became more nuanced and sometimes we let go of who we were in order to reach out to who we would be. But that moment between the letting go and the new holding was terrifying, so we had our moments of lostness, too.

We were girls of such privilege and potential. We were beloved and lightly scarred, scarred by the mere rejections and the slightly broken hearts and the friendships that were (we realized in retrospect) a bit forced. Some of the friendships survived and deepened and some faded into a shrugged memory. Some will get picked up where they left off only to dive into the deep end where new things are treasured. A laconic attitude is now appreciated as gentleness and deliberateness. A desire to please has morphed into a sharp perception and unflagging honesty. But a good laugh is still a good laugh, and a delight in each other is still just that: delight.

beach nh

The Earthly Cloud of Witnesses

A friend of mine is in the middle of a tragedy right now.  It’s a tragedy of circumstance, of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  There was no evil, no harmful intent.  But she is in the midst of a tragedy, and it is wrenching.

My friend is one of the most faithful servants of the church that we have nowadays.  She has committed her life to serving this funny, flawed, and hope-filled institution.  I consider her a mentor, friend, and yente, as she worked years to get me and my husband together.  I owe her more than I can ever say, and she would never say that I owe her anything.  She’s that kind of person.

Because she has been this faithful servant of the church she knows a lot of people, and I mean, a LOT of people. So when news of this tragedy hit Facebook, our modern and immediate Pony Express, the message boards lit up with prayers that you would not believe.  At the end of the day I read all the comments on all the posts, and I am overwhelmed.  I am overwhelmed by the love and the faith and the hope and the presence that these silly, powerful Facebook comments convey.  And last night, after a long session meeting, as I sat on the couch in my pajamas with the dog in my lap, the husband by my side, and Castle playing on the DVR, I realized that as much as we talk about the great cloud of witnesses in the sky, there is the earthly cloud of witnesses, too.

All these people posting on Facebook – and all those posting on the Caring Bridge site, and emailing and calling and showing up: they are witnesses to love, to the power of love and gratitude.  They are witnesses to the power of friendship, and the church, and belief that you tell people you love them and hold them in your heart.

Love cannot undo this tragedy, and my heart breaks at that.  Love cannot fix what is broken in this situation.  But love might be able to make it a little less worse than it is.  As the tragedy is cauterized, love might distract in that good way.  Love might take away an ounce of the pain.  Love will persist, because I know some of these people in this earthly cloud of witnesses, and like me, they have been mentored and loved by my friend.  They will show up; they will pray; and whether they know or care that they are doing this, they will witness to the Good.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overwhelm it.”

Candlelight vigil cups color

More chocolate; thank you

The gifts of tulip and chocolate.

The gifts of tulip and chocolate.

It’s always a bit unsettling when things converge; it makes it all the more possible that there is a divine force guiding us – or so I choose to believe.

If you’ve read some of my previous posts, you’ll know that 1) I invited people to eat chocolate every day for Lent as a reminder of God’s sweetness to us, and 2) that an old friend of mine was killed suddenly.  To have put the invitation out on the first thing, and now to be wrestling with the second thing has made for an interesting juxtaposition for me.  How do I contemplate the sweetness of God in the midst of sorrow and grief?

Truth be told, because of the nature of this pastoring thing, I may be one half-inch further along on the whole theodicy thing (why a loving God allows suffering.) I don’t have any answers, but I am slightly less uncomfortable with the mystery of it all.  And so the story that follows is not an answer in any way, nor does ease the chafing of points 1 and 2, but it’s a story and it has helped me.

So, as I’ve written previously, my college friend Martha died last Friday.  We lived together in a suite of ten our sophomore year, and in the days that have followed since the news of her death, we ten have been trying to get in touch with each other.  On Monday I had a call from one of the other women from that suite, a friend who was an engineering major in college (I majored in art history), a friend who was a gifted athlete (it was all I could do to get the simple box step down in my forays into musical theatre.)  We lived together but lived very different lives.  We had not stayed in touch.  Until Monday.

Monday she calls me at the church; she lives in Portland, can she stop by for a visit?  It was fantastic, and again I was so thrilled to see how this friend from my early adulthood had grown into this fabulous, generous, beautiful woman who gave up engineering and runs a non-profit that gives books to children.

And here’s the thing: she brought me chocolate and tulips, because, as she said, that’s what Martha would have done.  This old friend who had become a stranger to me is a friend once more, and the angel bearing chocolate – a sweet salve for my achy heart.

May there be chocolate-bearing angels for you today.

Desperately Seeking Martha

No, not Stewart.

Today I learned that my friend Martha, one of my college roommates, died.  She was hit by a car in Brooklyn just yesterday, and I don’t know more than that and am not sure I will choose to find out more than that.  It is shocking, of course, when a friend from your youth dies.  She’s too young to go, and by that, I also mean that I’m too young to go.

We lived together in a suite of ten our sophomore year.  With Martha, hilarity ensued, and often.  We roomed together that one year, but not after that, and after college we lost touch.  We reconnected a few years ago at our 25th college reunion, and then on Facebook.  She blogged – “Desperately Seeking Jon Stewart” – and it was smart and funny, just like her.  She had written kind and encouraging things to me about this blog, which pales next to hers.  I was utterly delighted to discover how my college friend had grown into such a magnificent, talented, generous person.

So it’s death again, knocking at the door, IM’ing me at a most inconvenient moment.  Another untimely death at that, and the usual response: messages to other roommates around the country, missing the waste basket as I throw my soggy kleenex away, and  wishing I could take her family some tuna noodle casserole or a Hefty bag of tortilla chips to get them through when the shock wears off.  Grieving is such a patchwork – moments of utter loss, next to moments of the mundane.

I shared the news with my husband, and got about to the rest of the day.  Then dinner, then playing, then a family dance party.  Katy Perry’s “Firework” came on, and I was belted out with the divine Ms. P, and suddenly was so overwhelmed I just put my face in my hands and wept.  Yes, at Katy Perry.

I was taken back to our 15th college reunion, when two of our other roommates, Anne and Emily, and I stood out in the athletic fields watching this incredible firework show accompanied by a live band.  I remember standing there with my two dear friends, both of whom had married and had children, grateful for the blessing all these friends were to me.  As I watched the fireworks, I thought about friends who had died, their lights had burst and delighted and illumined, and then they were gone.  And now Martha is too.

We’ve started sharing memories, of course, to ward off the blow.  That might be the only good way to deal with grief – to tell the stories, the funny ones and the painful ones and the hilariously awkward ones.  For reasons I can’t remember, Martha was on crutches for a while our sophomore year, and one night sang out her lungs (for all her talents, singing was not one of them)  to “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”  One Friday night, as we thoroughly disregarded the law about the drinking age, we were walking along Nassau Street when a case carrying a Resusci-Baby fell out of an ambulance. Let just say that what unfolded was like what would happen if Eloise (the city child who lives at the Plaza) grew up and went to Princeton and found a Resusci-baby after having drunk a bit.  (We did eventually return the baby, much worse for the wear, but I swear there was a smile on its face that hadn’t been there before.  Martha had that effect on people and inanimate objects.)

After college Martha was a producer for the PBS show “Clifford the Big Red Dog.”  None of us who knew Martha was surprised by that.  She won an Emmy for writing for the PBS show “WordWorld.”  We weren’t surprised by that, either.  She married, had kids, wrote, laughed, and made orange juice come out of our noses, we laughed so hard.

So in her memory, I’m turning up the Bonnie Tyler.  And I plan to do something hilarious and outlandish this week.  I’ll keep you posted on that.  I hope it will make someone laugh, if only myself, because a little too much has hit the fan this time.

(Turn around) every now and then I get a little bit lonely and you’re never coming round

(Turn around) every now and then I get a little bit tired of listening to the sound of my tears

(Turn around) every now and then I get a little bit nervous that the best of all the years have gone by

(Turn around) every now and then I get a little bit terrified and then I see the look in your eyes

(Turn around, bright eyes) Every now and then I fall apart (Turn around, bright eyes)

Every now and then I fall apart And I need you now tonight

and I need you more than ever

And if you only hold me tight

We’ll be holding on forever

And we’ll only be making it right ’cause we’ll never be wrong

Together we can take it to the end of the line

Your love is like a shadow on me all of the time (all of the time)

I don’t know what to do and I’m always in the dark

We’re living in a powder keg and giving off sparks

I really need you tonight,

forever’s gonna start tonight

Forever’s gonna start tonight

Once upon a time I was falling in love, but now I’m only falling apart

There’s nothing I can do… a total eclipse of the heart

Rest in peace, dear friend.