Friday, April 29, 2005

A Nod in Death's Direction

Death lurked around my door today.

I like to think that Death somehow is kept at bay for the most part. We know it's real and around but usually on the front lawn in the corner, at the edge of the road -- certainly NOT looking in the windows or waiting to be ushered in.

But today . . . I received an email from a conference participant I met almost five years ago. When I first met this guy, I thought he was a nutsy old guy and wondered why he would have been among the hand-picked pastors who were invited to participate in a two year training program I was helping launch in the Northwest. "Nutsy" is a nice way of saying that he sometimes just seemed rude and always was a bit off on what you might call the social graces.

He spoke bluntly and then laughed as though we should all know he was joking. He picked on me specifically because I was the only woman on the team and he wasn't accustomed to being taught by women. And he was often inappropriate enough that some of the men at the table would feel the need to come to my defense. As you may have guessed . . . I didn't really like him.

And yet . . . he was extremely, and I do mean extremely, creative. And I can forgive a lot if you possess that particular trait. Also, I learned that his apparent lack of appreciation for women in ministry was actually much evolved and that he was attempting to evolve further. Then I discovered that though past retirement age, he was giving of his time to his congregation and others, that he was a marvelous teacher, and that there was more to him -- as a father, cyclist, husband, etc. than would ever meet the eye.

At the close of the two years, I hugged him with genuine affection knowing that I'd miss him most of all.

Then I got the email. He had cancer -- in one of his cycling hardened legs. He overcame it and was back on a bike in fairly short work of it.

Then came the next email. His wife had cancer.

That one hasn't turned out so well. Today I learned that she's moving into hospice care. She's gotten at least a year more than they ever expected and much of it has been filled with the church and family life that I now know sustains them . But you could tell in his writing that they are ready for her suffering to end and for her days of "being half aware and half unaware" to come to an end.

I marveled at their faith, and their legacy, and the things you can learn when you let yourself overcome what seem to be enormous emotional barriers.

Later in the day I met with J, a man I met at a party and who wanted my help in crafting an AIDS presentation. He's HIV positive, Jewish, a homosexual and has seen more than his fair share of death. The list of "modifiers" for him screams SUFFERING and yet as we planned we couldn't help but laugh. I think it's because we're both fairly well acquainted with the character lurking at the door and hey, why not invite him in for the party? Ignoring it makes it no less real!

So we nodded in Death's direction and carried on . . . just as my friend has done for the last year.

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