It is a stunningly beautiful Sunday in early autumn…the perfect mix of lingering summer warmth and the first bitter, sharp crispness of fall…of sunshine and shadows…of life and death.
It is everything October can be on its very best day. A threshold day.
In my house, we rise early, despite our best efforts to extend sleep.I spent yesterday with my Sycamore family, learning about listening. I learned about listening to someone else. I learned about listening to myself. I learned about listening to the Divine. I learned about opening myself to all of that. That is some kind of new trinity, I think to myself, as I am falling asleep. “Remember to tell Michael that, in the morning.”
I am very tired this morning.
Michael, not remembering that September has given way to October and that I am no longer serving as the Elder in the early worship service, has agreed to do something involving a computer and advancing graphics at church, at 8:15 a.m. No way can I be there then, showered and smiling and in church clothes. No way. (Maybe by the 11:00 service, our usual, but I am not making any promises.)
“You go. I’m staying here.” I tell him. “I’ll go to the Elder’s meeting at noon. It’s the best I can do today.” He dresses and leaves. It’s just me and the steaming cup of coffee he brought to me. It’s quiet. Then there comes a sound from my nightstand…something unexpected on a Sunday morning. I hear the “ding, ding” from my phone that signals a text. I almost ignore it but change my mind.
My childhood friend has just lost his father.
In 6th grade, I sometimes hung out at his father’s drugstore after school. As we barged through the door, a bell would chime. The store was clean and tidy and well lit…was there muzak playing? I think so. His dad would look up from his work and smile, glad to see his son…glad to see me too, in tow. I was shy but my friend was not. That makes me smile, remembering how at home he was, in his father’s business… how warmly the employees greeted him.
The store was a bit crowded but pleasantly so, just the way I prefer a store be to this day. The shelves were stocked with everything you might expect to find in a drugstore…aspirin and other remedies… as well as (fancy) boxes of Russell Stover candies and Hallmark knickknacks and a great big magazine rack that took up most of one wall.
My friend’s father’s street clothes were concealed by a nicely pressed white coat. (Was it embroidered with his name? I am not sure.) He didn’t work behind the regular counter, where you paid for every day kinds of things like newspapers and cough drops. He was most often standing beind pharmacy counter, in the back of the store. It was elevated above the rest. When I saw my friend’s dad, way UP THERE, he looked very different than he did at other times…different from when he opened the front door of his home to me… or took me for a boat ride on Kentucky Lake.
This morning, as I learned of his death, I asked myself, “How many candy bars did I owe this man? How many games at the bowling alley? ” We often made just a quick stop in the store, on our way to the nearby Cardinal Lanes, many times bowling on his dime. When I was the “new kid” at Jackson Elementary, this man’s son was my first friend. Throughout middle school and high school, this man’s son was my best friend. In my Christian and Kentucky traditions, I should get right up and get busy. I should make phone calls. I should make a casserole and maybe a cobbler….I should offer to entertain the children.
But I am four hours away and one FaceBook post will take care of the phone calls. I’m uncomfortable and sad and lonely so I forward the text to a mutual friend, a minister. I know he will pray. And I also send a text to Michael, now half way through the 8:30 service at Central.
“Prayers lifted!” they both reply.
“Thanks be to God.” I say to myself.
I want to do something to honor this man and also my friend and his loss. In spiritual direction I am (slowly) learning to have reverence in all experiences…not just the feel good ones. “Now what?” I ask myself. I remember a sermon from the Senior Minister at Central…something about sitting next to a Jewish man on a plane…his bible open to the psalms. He’d preached something about the Jewish tradition of reading only the psalms when your father has died. I remember being told to read the psalmist’s words, when my (step) dad died.
“Got it. Psalms. Text that.” I think to myself. “Please, please, Spirit. Provide some comfort.” I remember sterile hospital consulting rooms and sitting with my (step) dad’s body.
Damn! “Some ‘spiritual director’ you are!” I have no words for my friend. He would have words for me, I know.
I send another text to our friend and to Michael. “Pray for him!”
I hear a car door shut. Michael is home from early service. “I couldn’t believe you were texting me during church but then I saw that Doug’s dad died. I’m sorry.” he says.
I announce, “I’m not going to the meeting. I’ll be sitting shiva for Mr. Ralston. “
Quite apologetically, and in the way of someone becoming accustomed to being surprised by me, he responds, “I don't know what that means but if that is what you need to do, you should do it.” Where in the hell did that come from? The shiva, I mean, not my husband’s easy acceptance.
Truthfully, I have no idea what it means either. I don't know why I said it, even. I really don’t. I opened my mouth and those words came out. So I google.
From Wikipedia:In Judaism, shiva (
Ok, well, clearly I am not Jewish and I am not one of the seven first degree relatives but I do manage to latch onto one word….sitting. This, I think, I know how to do. I can sit.
I decide to sit for my friend’s father. I am four hours away and there isn’t a casserole in sight, but I will hold sacred space for my friend and his loss.
I know of only one other thing to say to him.
“God is with you.”
So I text that.
And then I sit.