the end of the summer...
We look at life and cannot
untangle its eternal song:
rings and knots of joy and grief
all laced and interlocking
from the Ramayana
Have you ever taken the Meyers-Briggs test? It is supposed to help you understand yourself better by giving you four labels One of the labels determines whether you’re an introvert or extrovert. I’m always right on the line between the two, as if I could slip comfortably into either one, or as if neither of them fit well so that when I’m with people I want out, and when I’m not, I want in. Which is it? The former, thankfully, as perhaps demonstrated by this, a typical week.
SUNDAY: preaching and people, people, people. I love meeting new people, love hearing stories, love connecting people to each other. This Sunday was especially powerful as our community had many who were mourning the loss of a dear friend. But whatever the Sunday, it’s a people day.
MONDAY: people – staff meeting – some pastoral appointments, and e-mail connections with others – all of it is about people. By Monday evening this week, I come home tired, ready for solitude, which is great because that’s typically what Tuesday holds for me.
TUESDAY: reading, prayer, study, sermon preparation, some e-mails, preparation for board meeting – followed by an evening board meeting until about 9. Not many people today, except for the evening meeting… I light a candle on my home office desk, and study. Sometimes it comes easily, and sometimes mining things from the Bible feels like looking for gold in
WEDNESDAY: appointments most of the day, followed by some study time in the afternoon, followed by a parent meeting for parents of high school kids in the evening. Lots of enjoyable interaction with people.
THURSDAY: theology at 8AM followed by meetings until 11. At 11:15 I teach our new interns at church regarding the vision of
CABIN: I drive to the cabin on Thursday afternoon because my book is due to the publisher very soon and I’ve a busy weekend coming up in 9 days w/ a funeral etc. So I’m planning to write all day Friday and Saturday; editing, writing, formatting, until basically finished. I stop to shop and buy food, and then arrive at the cabin, alone. It’s good to be alone at the end of a people intensive week.
7PM – as dusk turns to darkness, I’ve finished eating, while listening to Lake Wobegon on my ipod, a marvelous story about the funeral of an English teacher who died. It’s poignant because tonight is the end of summer, the summer I’m calling the summer of death: Ed; Betsy; Scott; and then just yesterday, Barb - my god… it’s been painful to bear so much loss, and tonight I’m reminded of it, even through my favorite storyteller as he tells the story of an English teacher’s funeral. “How did he know that I needed to hear that?” I ask myself as I listen, mindful that people sometimes say ask the very same thing about me when I preach.
After trout/spinach/mushrooms/a baguette toasted w/ cheese, and a French wine which is the gift of friends…eaten outside while listening to the story and enjoying the forest, I go inside. I light candles in the north facing window and sit as dusk turns to darkness. There’s music from Africa, and then from Finding Neverland, and then from a favorite harpist, followed by Chris Rice, Joni Mitchell, a singer I met at a conference taught, and then Joni Mitchell. I just sit and listen until I can’t see anything out the window anymore. The fireplace is lit, and the fire creates light that dances on the logs. My heart is full. Staring out the window, lots of things happen:
I ponder the reality that I’m part of a vast globe throbbing with life, and that all that is now alive will someday be no more – and the pondering is both sobering and uplifting, both beautiful and terrible. I’m grateful that finally, at 51, I’m comfortable with the paradox of it all.
I become melancholic, in a good way; because it’s been a hard summer, because my mom is 88, because I’m adopted and want to know my real roots, because this little cabin in this little part of the world is so beautiful, because I’ve encountered so much suffering this summer, this week, because I love my wife and kids, and friends, so much – because I’m so grateful to be alive in this moment – and for other reasons too.
I pray – Thank you God for all of it – the beauty, the friendships, the joy and the sorrow, the loss and the intimacy, the candles in the window, the fir trees, stretching northward towards
I become restored - falling into an early and contented sleep.
Yes. I like being alone as much as I like being with people, and am more grateful than I can possibly express that I’m living out a time in life when I’m able to fully enter into both solitude and community. Tomorrow, stay in my chair and write all day long. Tonight though… worship – prayer – gratitude.