Monday, March 28, 2011
Life (noun) 1.the course of existence or sum of experiences and actions that constitute a person's existence --Random House Dictionary
The location for my old friend Jim’s memorial service was bittersweet: a stone gothic chapel, all dappling multi-colored stain glass and dark smooth wood, set on the southern New Hampshire campus of a private high school. When Jim and I first met thirty-five summers ago at church camp, we were at the age of the smiling and earnest young people whom I walked by, as I hurried into the church on a that chilly March Saturday. Remember what life was like then, at 15 or 16? It stretched out before us, like a long seemingly infinite road. Life felt as if it would go on forever. That’s the myth which marks and sustains youth. Then we cannot imagine an end to life, nor should we. The young do not yet “realize” life, at least not its finitude, its fleetingness.
But life does come to an end for all human beings. We are mortal, fragile. That’s the sobering truth we grow up and into as we move into middle age and later life. Now into my 50th year, Jim’s death at 52 hit me hard for many reasons. He was a good man as a father and husband and doctor, and left this world much too soon. His death from cancer was unfair, as so many are. But most powerfully his death raised for me that most of human of imaginings. “That could be me.” I thought. This is what death does for humans, the ones left behind. Yes: death shocks, it steals, it saddens, it cruelly rearranges life, yet death can also jolt us into a moment of spiritual clarity. Wake us up to the truth that we all have an expiration date, a day and moment sometime “then”, when we will cease to be, at least on this side of existence.
The gift of death, if such an idea can be fathomed, is that it sharply reminds us of the gift of life. The miracle of our hearts beating on for another day. The sun warming our skin for another day. Loved ones loving us for another day. Our Creator calling us to live and love this precious life for another day.
Death finally challenges us as mortals to live this God-given life well, very well. So how’s that going for you this one day? In light of death, how is your one life? What is your life’s quality, its depth, its meaning, its purpose? When you leave this world, what will be your legacy? What positive difference are you making this day in the life of others?
In Thornton Wilder’s play “Our Town”, set in a small New England town at the turn of the twentieth century, the main character is Emily, a young woman, recently married, who dies suddenly. Act II opens with Emily in the town graveyard and she begs the stage manager/narrator to allow her to go back down to earth for just one day. She goes and witnesses the day of her twelfth birthday and then returns, asking one poignant question. “O earth you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? Every, every minute?”
To “realize life”, “every, every minute”. This is the lesson my faith tries to remind me of each and every day. Sure, most days I get all caught in the faux dramas of day to day life. I get stuck in “poor me”. Raise complaining to an art form. Find myself in the weeds of life, self-focused, anxious, whiney. Sound familiar?
But some sweet and precious days, like the day I said goodbye to Jim, I actually listen to God and wake up to life again. This then is the lesson of death. To try and live so fully that when we die, we will have no regrets. To try and love so deeply that when we die, we will have given all of our love away. To try and give of ourselves to others so fully that when we die, we can depart in the knowledge that our one life made a positive difference. To try and live for something bigger and more important than ourselves, that when we exit the stage called life, folks will have been changed for the better merely by having known us.
At Jim’s service, after all the tears and the laughter, the celebration of his one life, family friends sent us out of the chapel with a beautiful song called “For Good” from the musical “Wicked”. “I've heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason, bringing something we must learn, and we are lead to those who help us most to grow, if we let them, and we help them in return. Well I don’t know if I believe that's true, but I know I'm who I am today, because I knew you.”
Death remind us all of just how amazing and wonderful life can be. If only we will live it to the fullest. Thanks Jim, for reminding me of this truth. I’m better for having known you. The world is too. Just one life, that’s all God gives us. The question is: do we realize this gift?
Sunday, March 27, 2011
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Friday, March 25, 2011
Monday, March 21, 2011
Opening (noun) 1. the act of beginning; start or commencement 2. an opportunity; chance. --Random House Dictionary
“You look forward to [Opening Day] like a birthday party when you're a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen.” --Joe DiMaggio
So what did all of us wake up to on the second day of spring, 2011? Snow. Heavy, wet, sloppy snow. A white goopy blanket descending from slate gray cloudy skies, threatening to cover the courageous green shoots in the front yard, to bury the delicate flowers which have pushed up and out of the cold, winter hard ground. Thought the snow is melting on most of the surfaces here in the Boston area, friends in western Massachusetts report they’ve already got three inches and counting.
So what did all of us wake up to on the second day of spring, 2011? A seeming storm of bad news too, a blizzard of headlines talking of a world gone a bit crazy, chaotic even. Earthquake. Tsunami. Nuclear meltdown. A new war in Libya. Revolutions raging in the rest of Middle East. An economy which seems to get sidetracked every time it begins to try and sprint again. $100 dollar a barrel oil. Home prices at their lowest levels since 2002. A federal government weeks away from a total shut down if our toddler-like bickering leaders can’t agree.
Whew! But guess what? Fifteen days and counting to Opening Day at Fenway Park! That’s right, just 15 days. 360 hours give or take. Even better this year’s home opener is against the New York Yankees and is a rare weekday afternoon game, Friday, April 8th, first pitch 2 pm. Though early April weather in New England can produce anything from a rainy downpour to a freeze out, I’m imagining blue skies and warm spring breezes for that day. Say sixty degrees or so, still nippy enough to remind us that summer isn’t quite here yet, but balmy enough to give us hope for the warmth which is on the way.
Opening Day. Here’s the truth. There is little or anything you or I can do about all the worldly wackiness and wildness that is happening right now. We can pray for peace and recovery, and so we should. We can donate funds to our brothers and sisters in Japan and so we should too. A third war for America to fight? This morning as I write I’m not quite sure about the wisdom of entering into a prolonged bar room brawl with the craziest of crazy dictators like Muammar Gaddafi. The economy and the markets? My pension portfolio has been through such a roller coaster ride these past few weeks I’m getting motion sickness.
But this I can do. Anticipate spring and all that accompanies this sweetest of seasons. I can envision sitting myself down in a seat at Fenway Park and taking my first bite out of the first hot dog of the season, the tang of the mustard dancing on my tongue. I can see myself standing at attention, hat over heart and belting out the national anthem with gusto. I can look forward to opening up The Boston Globe each morning and turning straight to the sports section to read about what the Old Town team is up too. I can be spring in a way, even if winter tries its best to hold on for dear life, to hang on for a few more weeks. Weather wise and worldly wise.
Opening Day. Baseball in New England. Hope. Spring. What ritual will you return to as a sacred reminder that spring is coming? What is your Opening Day? Turning a spade full of dirt over in the garden for the first time. Getting on the bike and pedaling away for miles and miles. Dusting off the clubs and playing eighteen. Visiting the local ice cream stand for your first April cone. Storing away bulky sweaters and opening up the windows for a fresh and sweet breeze.
In all of these ways we participate in the renewal of life. We thank our God for the miracle of spring and rebirth and then push back the snow, no matter how hard it tries to stick around. As the songwriter Amanda McBroom wrote and Bette Midler sang, “Just remember in the winter, far beneath the bitter snows, lies the seed, that with the sun’s love, in the spring becomes the rose.”
Opening Day. It is on the way, no matter what. Play ball!
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Spiritually Speaking by Rev. JF Hudson: 3/14/11
Status (noun) 1. the position of an individual in relation to another or others
--Random House Dictionary
“The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village.” --Marshall McLuhan
Confession time. As of last Friday I like Facebook. There: I admit it. I’m a Facebook fan. OK: I maybe even love Facebook, especially that website’s feature which provides ongoing and up to the minute status updates on friends and family near and far. For the Facebook uninitiated, site members can post as often as they like on their Facebook web page, updating their “friends” about where they are, what they are doing, what is happening in their life, or what they think about this issue or that world or local event. Facebook aficionados post and that information is shared instantaneously with their cyber community. Most of the time these updates are like the gossip or personal chit chat our grandparents might have shared with neighbors while talking over the fence in the backyard or sharing a cup of coffee or a glass of beer with a friend. How the kids are doing in school. What’s up at work. Political ideas and debates. News about “so and so” who lives down the street. Like a digital living room, Facebook allows its users to connect, geography and distance no longer being a stumbling block to catching up and staying in touch.
For a longtime I was a reluctant, even mocking, Facebook user. Are any of us so “important” that we need to share right now with all our digital “friends”, the minutiae of daily life? Do my 161 “friends” really want to hear all the juicy details about the party I went to last Friday? The cornflakes I ate for breakfast? The latest diet I’m undertaking? The fact that a blue jay is slugging it out with a chickadee in my backyard bird feeder? But last week all that changed.
Friday morning, up at 6:30, and while surfing for news on the net, I first heard about the earthquake and tsunami which had struck Japan. Like all of us I was absolutely shocked and horrified by the extent of the destruction there: the suffering, the mass human dislocation, the huge size of that disaster. But this time, for the first time I can remember, this catastrophe was personal. For one of my oldest friends in the world, Suzy, along with her husband and two children, live in Tokyo. I visited them last summer and fell in love with that amazing island nation, reaffirmed as well how important Suzy is in my life as a dear friend. And now I wondered, even panicked: “Is she ok?” “Did the quake damage their downtown Tokyo apartment?” “What was her status?” “Was the family safe?”
Immediately logging into my Facebook account I saw Suzy’s profile picture, along with these sobering but reassuring words in her status update. “Our clan is all ok.” WHEW! Later throughout the day and into that night, Suzy, who was on a day hike in a town outside of the city when the quake struck, posted ongoing updates on her whereabouts, using her I-Phone. Suzy was sitting in a massive traffic jam of cars stuck on the road attempting to get into Tokyo. But through the technological miracle of her cell phone connecting digitally to Facebook, she was able to tell all of her friends, her family, her loved ones, that she was OK and on the way back home. That her daughter and husband were safe and together. That her son made it back to Tokyo after a harrowing five hour ride on his school bus. And then finally, some twelve hours after Suzy had first posted her status, her husband Greg reported in his Facebook status update these God blessed words. “She finally arrived around 2 am.”
So here’s my testimony, my witness, as one of 500 million plus Facebook members. I’m now a convert, a true believer even, in this post-modern amazing cyber neighborhood, where with the click of a keystroke, I can know the “status” of the people that I love the most. I rest a bit easier in the knowledge that my good friend, though some 6,700 miles distant, can reach out to me as if right in my living room, sipping coffee and catching up. As a person of faith one of truths I trust most deeply, is that God, though the Creator of the universe, this God cares deeply about my status and the status of every single child of God. No exceptions. No one left out. In Tokyo. In Boston. Every where. So in faith I am thankful to God for technology like Facebook which connects, updates, knits together and brings us all closer as a world. The world truly is a global village: that vision has come true.
So if you see my profile on Facebook and feel so moved, “friend” me. I’ll accept. Seems to me in a world which so often lately is unpredictable, is rocked by social upheaval and even disaster, we need all the friends that we can get. We need to care more deeply about the status of each and every one of us. Just don’t ask me to play Farmville or Mafia Wars! See you online.
The Reverend John F. Hudson is Senior Pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn (pilgrimsherborn.org). If you have a word or idea you’d like defined in a future column or have comments, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or in care of The Dover-Sherborn Press (Dover-Sherborn@cnc.com).