Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Bill Penny

In my occasional funeral sermons, this is the one I preached for Bill Penny in Litchfield, CT with a Bishop celebrating. (Bishops always celebrate at the funeral of a priest--I'm trying to figure out how to get out of that!)

Bill was a remarkable priest and an incredible man. He was Archdeacon of the Diocese of Long Island for many years. He retired to Connecticut and came to our clericus and attended St. John's in Waterbury for several years, off and on.

Being asked to preach at his funeral was a great honor, extremely humbling and a treat beyond imagining. In his later years, Bill had macular degeneration and couldn't drive anymore. That will help you make sense of the beginning of the sermon.

I can only hope some of Bill's glory glimmers through in my words....


The best job I ever had—best by far—was being Bill Penny’s chauffeur from time to time.
I am only one of a multitude of folks who were Bill’s chauffeurs—and though I always thought I was his favorite driver, I am as sure as sure can be that everyone who gave Bill a ride felt like “his favorite driver”. Bill simply had the God-given capacity to make whoever he was with feel like the best and brightest and most beloved. That gift of his is beyond compare, fondly to be wished, a holy gift.
And there is this: I was Bill’s driver to the General Convention in 1997.
We’d drive into Philadelphia each morning from Bill’s sister in law’s house and go to the convention center. I would feel like the one person entourage of an ecclesiastical “rock star”. We couldn’t walk ten steps without someone coming over to hug and kiss and love on Bill. And he would hug and kiss and love on them.
There were coveys of nuns who descended on him like teenagers around the Beatles—Bill was Paul and John and George and Ringo all rolled into one. There were bishops who would walk away from important conversations just to come over and bask in Bill’s presence. Just walking through the convention center, priests by the dozens and as many lay-people, would be drawn from whatever else they were doing to come and hold Bill near and feel his oh-so-fierce hug in return. (Sometimes, when he hugged me, I felt he was about to dislocate my shoulder or break some bone….Bill was a world class hugger…..)
I had known before that trip that Bill was a “special person”—what I hadn’t realized is how wide spread that realization was! Everyone he ever met, it seems, was made to feel so wonderful by just being with him that they never forgot it….And could never forget it.

And now Bill is dead. I hate this part. I want to rant and rage against God and the cosmos and the powers that be and say, “No, give him back to us…we still have great need of him….”
And we do. His family needs him and we as individuals and we as a church have “great need” of him—of his never-ending compassion, his great, good humor, his gracefulness and generosity of spirit, his wisdom about what was old and his openness to what is new, his love and his guidance and his eternal optimism in the face of life’s cynicism and his undefeatable hope in the face of fracture and fear.
We have need of knowing that whatever the evidence to the contrary, life is TERRIFIC….Really, life is Terrific….That’s what Bill believed, believed always, believed absolutely, without a shred of doubt….

“Enough about me,” Bill would be saying about now, “Proclaim the Gospel, Jim. Proclaim it….”
And this is the gospel I proclaim—the gospel Bill gave his life to; God is Love.
Not complicated at all. Not subtle in any way. A simple three word sentence that gathers up and contains all we know and all we need to know.
In one of Kurt Vonnegut’s science fiction novels, there is a robot named Salo that had been programmed to travel the galaxies endlessly, searching for the answer to one simple question: “WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?”
Salo finally finds his answer from a lonely, forgotten woman who was marooned on one of the moons of Jupiter. “THE MEANING OF LIFE,” Beatrice tells him, “IS TO LOVE WHOEVER IS AROUND TO BE LOVED.”
I believe that would have been Jesus’ answer as well.
And I know it was Bill’s answer.
From Bishops to power-brokers to the people who run the fish store to clerks at Starbuck’s to folks down on their luck—Bill simply loved whoever was around to be loved. Whether he was pleading for compassion from the powerful or sitting on a bench on the Waterbury Green with the homeless—he loved whoever was around to be loved. And in that he proclaimed the gospel more eloquently and profoundly than any preacher can convey.
God is love—and love is stronger than death could ever be.

The Buddhists tell us that the illusion of separateness is the cause of human suffering. The illusion of separateness is the cause of human suffering. If that is true, then the acceptance of unity is the pathway to joy.
That, I believe, is the gospel truth that Bill embraced, leaned into and lived from. He didn’t seem to notice the separateness of the powerful and powerless, of brokenness and wholeness, of hope and hopelessness, of death and life. Bill seemed to accept, in ways both obvious and profound, the “unity” of God’s creation. He loved whoever was around to be loved.
And that is the good news I proclaim for him and from him.
He taught us to love by loving—by his eternal love of his precious Natalie, his blinding love of Priscilla and all her family, his loyal love to those he ministered to and with, his unflinching love of “the least of these” in our midst, and—most, most of all—his quiet and grateful love of the one who is Resurrection and Life.
My invitation to you is to carry from this holy space, this gracious time, a little of Bill’s Spirit—a sampling of his love, a touch of his humor, a dollop of his compassion. And my invitation to you is to carry from this service, this memorial, the unity of God, who is resurrection and life.
If we can carry that good news with us into the world, Bill will be pleased. If he were here, he would say that was “Terrific”, absolutely “Terrific”.
Godspeed, dear, dear friend. And may God’s blessing be with you and with us, who miss you so, this day and forever….

Monday, July 29, 2013

more about the 'conversation' we need to have....

I told you in my last post that I was honored and humbled to begin my ordained ministry at St. James Church in Charleston, West Virginia--a nearly all Black church. Besides me, Bern, my pregnant wife and Bea Weaver, who was married to a Black man, there were no other white people in the congregation. (Irony of Ironies, Bea was a domestic who cleaned the houses of many of the Black members of St. James!)

Since I worked for St. James, I decided to join the Black Ministerial Association and went to their meetings on a regular basis. Being the only white (and non-Baptist or Methodist) member of the group, they taught me many things. I believe my experience as a white priest in a Black community was much gentler and more gracious than the experience of a Black priest in a white community would have been. I've never talked to a Black Minister of a white Church except for a wonderful Episcopal priest from Philadelphia. He told me that he had been the interim priest for a suburban congregation on the Main Line--very affluent and liberal. But when the time came to call a Rector and he offered his name to the calling committee, one of the members told him in private: "Paul, we admire and respect you greatly...but we have daughters...."

Paul Washington was one of the most competent and accomplished priests in the Episcopal Church, but when it came time for a congregation in a wealthy, mostly progressive suburb to choose a Rector, he was ruled out, as a Black man, because they didn't trust a Black man around their daughters.

There were 'daughters' aplenty at St. James in Charleston. The demographics were terribly skewed--about a dozen or more teenage girls and only one teenage boy. And none of the Black parents of those lovely girls distrusted me because I was White. And that has nothing to do with the indisputable fact that  most clergy sexual abuse is by White pastors of whatever denomination. What that had to do with is that those Black Folks were much more accepting of a White priest than any White congregation anywhere, I believe, would be accepting of a Black priest.

My five years at St. James--where both our children were born and baptized--was a post-graduate education in Race. I was at first astonished and then embarrassed and ashamed about how little--how pitifully little--I understood the Black experience.

Given, St. James was an anomaly: many of the members were faculty or administrators at West Virginia State College in Institute. I would often get up to preach to the 50 or 60 folks in the congregation and realize at least half of them had either Ph.D's or Master's degrees. Though West Virgina State was a state school, it had, in the past, had a reputation in the Black Community  close to Grambling and Howard. These were sophisticated and cultured folks by any measure. And they taught me, interestingly enough, how to be White in a non-White world.

I remember being at a Sorority Dance (Sororities and Fraternities were valuable social outlets for middleclass Black folks) and seeing my friend and parishioner, John's wife, dancing with a White Journalism professor at WVSC. "Why aren't you dancing with Charlotte?" I asked John. And he replied, tersely, "I don't dance, don't like fried chicken and don't eat watermelon."

I came to learn that for Black people, Black stereotypes weren't simply 'stereotypes', they were 'indictments': rules White Folks made to keep Black Folks 'in their place'.

Ben Gray, Senior Warden for most of the time I was Vicar of St. James, taught me a painful lesson one day after we went to lunch at the Black  VFW restaurant. When we came out there was a parade downtown for some holiday. We watched it for a while. Then Ben said to me, "Jim, you know how we are different?"

Well, I had a hundred answers, but not the one he had in mind.

Ben had been a colonel in WWII, one of the highest ranking Black officers. He'd also worked for the Post Office and the the Veteran's Administration. He had 3 (count 'em!) federal pensions in his retirement. He and his wife were both very light skinned and he once confessed to me that when they traveled in the south in years gone by, he'd had a turban in the trunk of his car. Wearing that and faking an accent, he and Mary could stay in motels that didn't allow Blacks. Imagine a colonel in the Army having to do that to have a good night's sleep....

"When you hear a band coming," Ben told me solemnly, like a monk teaching a novice, "you can decide you like the band from the sound, even before it turns the corner and you can see it....." He paused for a moment, knowing he was about to give me pain. "But I have to see the band, Jim," he told me, looking straight into my eyes, "I have to see a black or brown face in the band before I can like it."

We listened to a band around the corner for a while. "Do you see how that makes us different?" Ben asked me gently.

And I did. And it hurt. And it taught me something about being White that I'd never known before, never even considered, never dreamed of.

Being White means living in a bubble where 'being white' never comes to mind. While 'being Black' was something else altogether, something I couldn't imagine, couldn't comprehend, couldn't even dream of.

But I loved Ben and I knew he'd shared great wisdom with me. And though I couldn't 'be Black', he'd taught me a better way to 'be White'.

What a gift.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

the conversation about race we really need to have....

I've talked to several people over the last week who I like and respect who just didn't 'get' what President Obama said about 'race' in his surprise appearance before the White House Press Corps. Those folks heard the words and understood them, but just didn't 'get' why he was talking about race.

That, it seems to me, is the problem and why we need to have the conversation about race that the President suggested we really need to have. What I heard him saying was that white folk just don't 'get' what it's like to be Black in America. And that's what we need to talk about: why we white folk don't 'get it' about what it's like to be Black.

It's akin to saying Jews don't understand what it means to be Palestinian. And vice-versa.

I'm part of a group that does a lot of work in Ireland between Protestants and Catholics. And what we've discovered is that if you ask Protestants in the north of Ireland to explain how the Catholics feel, they can do it. And if you ask Catholics to explain how the Protestants feel, they can do it. They can, to a great extent, 'tell each others' stories'. They really can. That doesn't make it any better, but it is interesting.

Black Folk and White Folk, in this country, can't tell each others' stories. We just can't. And that is the conversation we need to have. I suspect, deep down, that Black Folks can tell our White Folks story a lot better than we can tell theirs' because they pay more attention to us than we do to them. That's just me thinkin' out loud, it's not the Truth.

I grew up in the southern most county of West Virginia. We were farther south than Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy. And the place I grew up was almost equally divided between White and Black--about 50-50. Nowhere outside the deep south in those days had those demographics.

So I 'knew' Black Folks from my birth. And I paid a lot more attention to them, since there were so many of them, than I would had I grown up in suburban Connecticut or suburban 'anywhere', where Black Folks are in a distinct minority.

And here's the Truth about my experience (it's not just me talkin') I was never ever afraid of a Black person when I grew up. But then, I wasn't afraid of any White person either. AND, the Black folks the age of my parents called me, almost invariably, "Mister Jimmy" and I didn't know any Black folks my age since my father forbade me to play with them and I was an obedient boy. And, until I was in my teens, it never bothered me that Black Folks of a certain age called me "Mister Jimmy" or that I didn't know any Black Folks my age.

How crazy is that? I grew up surrounded by African Americans and never once questioned why the adults treated me with deference (even knowing my name when I didn't know theirs) and I don't remember a single conversation with a Black child my age though there were at least as many of them as White children. How crazy is that?

I never went to school with a Black kid until my Senior Year of High School when the Black school since over three male athletes and two brilliant girl students because everyone knew the schools would be combined the next year and those 5 young people (football and basketball stars and honor roll students) were to pave the way.

I liked them all, and because I was smart, I was in the same classes with the two girls and one of the boys. It was the first time I ever talked with Black Folks my age. (When I went to college, I became good friends with Ron Wilkerson, who went to the Black high school about a quarter of a mile from the White high school. He used to tell his friends, when he introduced me, "Jim and I went to different schools together!" It always got a laugh because we all--Black and White--back then, understood what that meant. We were noble enough to know it had been wrong, but not yet empowered to critique and reject it.)

My first call as a priest was to an African-American parish in Charleston WV. Our children grew up around Black people and when we moved to New Haven, Josh and Mimi would rush over to Black Folks on the street or in a store and embrace their knees. Most of the Black Folks were horrified and would raise their hands to show us they weren't touching our children.

How crazy was that? In the 80's of the last century, good and decent Black folks were afraid that a white child hugging them might be misinterpreted?

I also served two other parish that were deeply integrated and worked for a few years in a Training Center that was 95% minority students.

So, I have some 'creds', as we say. I have lived and loved and had my being among Black Folks for much of my adult life. And here's the awful truth....

Tonight, a Sunday in July, I was out on the back porch and saw two Black teenaged boys walking down Cornwall Avenue, in the road, not on the sidewalk.

They were dressed no differently than the dozens of white teenage boys I see every day on Cornwall--mostly in the road and not on the sidewalk. And I felt, for just a moment, until I caught myself, an irrational feeling. Like this: 'what are they doing here?' 'what is this about?' 'Who are those kids?'

Then I caught myself. Then I took a deep breath and thought how important it is for us, as white folks, to have the discussion on 'race' the President began.

More than most people in Cheshire, and I feel safe in saying this, I 'know' Black Folks and have been taught much about race by them and have loved them and been loved and accepted by them.

So, if I could feel those irrational feelings about those two innocent black teens for even a few moments....

Well, you know what I'm saying. We need to talk about 'race' in a way we never have before. And we have to approach it in a way none of us wants to approach a conversation--we need to admit, straight up and from the beginning, that we have much more to learn, as White folks, than we have to teach, that we come at a 'race' conversation as people who have been half-asleep while Black people have been wide-awake, that we don't have a clue what it means to 'be Black', no more than we know what it's like to defy gravity. We can't levitate and we can't 'be Black', but we can begin to listen and commit ourselves to learn, and we willing to discover how stupid--I really mean that, how "STUPID" White Folks are about Black Folks.

Only if we're willing to do that can the conversation begin....Only then.....That's the only way it will work and that's why it hasn't worked yet.

So agree not to levitate and to be really 'stupid' so the conversation can begin....

Friday, July 26, 2013

What I do (redux)....

Since I wrote a post about 'walking you to your grave' as 'what I do' and then wrote a post about Arlene's funeral, I've been pondering how vital death and funerals are to a priest. I often downplay the importance of priesthood and I truly believe that priests are more accurately defined by 'who they BE' than 'what they DO'. However, being present and fully engaged at the time of death is a humbling and noble thing to do.

I've been looking at the dozens of dozens of sermons I have saved on my computer. And a number of them are funeral sermons. Funeral sermons are, it seems to me, perhaps the most important thing I've ever done. Walking someone to their grave is profound, talking about them right before that is profoundly humbling and an honor no one deserves. Funeral sermons are a gift to the preacher--a 'gift' that brings the preacher to his/her knees if they are paying attention.

So, I'm going to occasionally share a funeral sermon with you, if you don't mind. These sermons are 'the ones that mattered' in 38 years of preaching. Really.

The one I share today is for Jack Parker--one of the sweetest, kindest, most lovable man I ever knew. He was also a priest and a librarian. He served a parish a stones throw from St. John's in Waterbury, literally across the Green, for years. He was an Anglo-Catholic well acquainted with 'smells and bells', the stuff of High Church worship. He was also the first priest in Waterbury, perhaps in Connecticut., to truly reach out to the gay community and welcome them to worship.

He retired and became a member of St. John's and aided me in ways I cannot ever enumerate. He helped me through a really rough patch when some few folks were upset with my welcoming Integrity (GLBT Episcopalians and their friends) to St. John's for their home). He was willing to be the 'fly on the wall' for all my meetings with those who were angry about 'perverts' being part of the ministry of St. John's (so I'd have a 'witness' in what they said). He gave me a tee-shirt that said: I'M THE RECTOR, THAT'S WHY! during that period, to remind me I had 'authority' to let Integrity use the building as well as being correct morally about welcoming and showing hospitality to that community.

He was a mentor and teacher in a gentle way in many other aspects of my priesthood. I became the priest I am because of Jack in many ways.

And I was honored and humbled to preach at his funeral. Below is that sermon.

OCTOBER 17, 2009

Years ago, I went on a day trip with three men who I love like uncles and mentors and dear, dear friends. Jack Parker and Bill Penny and David Pritchard and I drove up into the heart of New England. I remember that we went to a place called ‘The Cathedral of the Pines’ and we also went to see Jack’s mountain—the one he loved and had climbed time and time again and where some of his ashes will be scattered by his remarkable family—we had a great lunch at some place one of them knew and somehow got back before it was too late for such a motley crew to be out without getting into mischief!
A friend of mine told me that there are only two plots in all of literature. One is, “A stranger arrives in town”. The other is, “Someone sets out on a journey”.
I have memories of sharing part of the journey that is life with Jack Parker.
Memories like that are precious, rare, wondrous and, finally, Holy.
I’ve ONLY known Jack Parker for 20 years or so. I say ‘only’ because I know some of you have known him much longer than that—his children, his family that he loved so fiercely…and others. But knowing him for two decades was a bountiful gift to me from God. And, if I had to choose a word to describe that gift it would be this—‘holy’.
I’ve never known anyone who loved a bad, corny joke as much as Jack.
Most of the jokes Jack loved began something like this: “A rabbi and a priest and a Baptist minister went into a bar….” Or, like this: ‘Three elderly men were sitting on the front porch of the nursing home….’ Or, like this, “A man was trying to sell a talking dog….”
I think you get the point. Jack would start laughing half-way through telling the joke and anyone who was listening would start laughing with him, entranced by Jack’s laugh, caught up in his story, not caring at all how the joke turned out—it would turn out ‘bad’ and ‘corny’—but thankful and joyous to be sharing a laugh with Jack….
There is a word for sharing a laugh with Jack. The word is ‘holy’.
There is a word that occurs to me for anything, anytime ‘shared with Jack’. The word is ‘holy’.
OK, he was not St. Francis of Assisi. Not quite. But he was, for me, a ‘holy’ man. Truly, really, without fear of contradiction…Jack was ‘holy’. No kidding. I’m not exaggerating. Not at all.

He taught me….so many things…. Knowing Jack was like post-Doctoral work in kindness and love and long-suffering and generosity of Spirit and joy. Knowing Jack was like a seminar in prayerfulness. He was a priest to be admired, a man to be emulated, a quick study in sweetness. It seems an odd word, perhaps, but Jack was a sweet, sweet man. I know you all know what I mean.
And learning these things from Jack was—have I mentioned this?—Holy.
The words from Jesus in today’s gospel are among the most beautiful and comforting in all of Scripture.
“Let not your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me…In my father’s house are many rooms…If it were not so, would I have told you I go to prepare a place for you?”
The Greek word translated ‘rooms’ is ‘mona’. That word has many possible translations—rooms, resting places, mansions (as we used to say) and abodes. That’s the one I like “abodes”…places to be, space to ‘abide’ in the nearer presence of the God who loves us best of all.
The last time I saw Jack, I made him promise that he wouldn’t die until I got home from a trip to the beach. He said he’d try, but he wasn’t sure he could. It was the only promise he didn’t keep to me. He had other plans, another place to abide.
That last time I saw Jack, I offered him communion. The sacrament was Jack’s favorite food and drink, but that last time, he said ‘no’.
“You’ve been a priest to me long enough,” he told me, with that crooked smile and twinkling eye he always had, “we’re just two old friends saying goodbye….”
Jack taught us all so very much about ‘living’. And he taught us how to die.
And it is time now—he would have wanted it this way—it’s time for us to smile and remember and thank God for the journey and say ‘good bye’ to our old, dear friend….
“I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me.”

Thursday, July 25, 2013

What I'd like to say....

OK, this is not for general consumption. This is not safe for under-aged kids. This is not your kind and gentle 'post', like most of my posts are.

I'm just pissed off and I don't want to take it anymore!

*Anthony Wiener, besides going to the court house and changing his name, has just got to GO AWAY! Like for always, and give us a break from his X rated life. Really.

*All those states--North Dakota, Texas, Virginia, who knows who else--who have declared war on women and their rights to their bodies have just got to GO AWAY! Like secede from the Union or whatever, but go away, like for always, and give us some money to invite all the women in those states to come to Connecticut.

*All those Republicans in Congress who want to do nothing else than block anything the President wants to do without offering any alternative on Health Care,Infrastructure, Immigration, National Security, the Economy, need the just GO AWAY and let the rest of us do what has to be done to make American work in some more reasonable and fair way.

*ARod, Alex Rodriquez, has to just GO AWAY and let the Yankees be the mid-level team they are.

*So called 'conservative talk show hosts', you know who they are--Rush and Glen and all those folks on Fox and a dozen or so more--just have to GO AWAY and let some semblance of sanity, as lame as it would be, return to the airways.

*Muslims (the non-terrorist types) need to get over the Sunni/Shiite thing and be good Muslims like Christians are good Catholics and good Protestants and almost never blow each other up about the differences they have--which aren't 'that different' to someone looking in from the outside.

Oh, there's lots more I'm pissed off about, but that's a start. More to come, since I don't think I'm going to be less pissed off anytime soon.....

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The next appendix

As human beings have evolved, we have ceased to need some of our body parts or they have changed to meet our needs. Our appendix, for example: it probably used to function in some useful way, but has long since become unnecessary and serves no purpose today except to get sick or rupture and make money for the surgeons who remove it, leaving on our bodies (as on mine) a three or four inch scar that reminds us that a useless part of us was removed under general anesthesia. (I was recovering from having my appendix removed on the Millennial celebration. I had a clicker to release morphine into my blood stream on command--though certainly it was gauged to not let me over-medicate--when I looked over to the chair beside my bed and recognized the Bishop of Connecticut sitting there. "Hey, Drew," I said, holding the morphine release clicker toward him, "you want to try some of this....?")

On the other hand, our brains have become bigger and bigger over the past 40,000 years or so as we needed them more and more. (However, given the kind of stupidity I discover daily--Taliban killing health workers trying to give the polio vaccine to young children; Anthony Wiener...well, just Anthony Wiener; the Republican candidate for governor in Virginia believing Yoga leads to Satanism; those who don't believe in climate change; anyone who would vote for Anthony Wiener....stuff like that...we might be better off with smaller brains....)

My prediction of the body's next adjustment is this: one of the hands of human beings will wither away and the fingers will bend inward so a smart phone may be permanently attached to the human body.

I was walking our dog on the canal yesterday and realized that most everyone I passed in either direction was either talking on a smart phone or carrying a smart phone in one of their hands. People who were running didn't have a bottle of water in their hand, they had a smart phone. I even saw one guy riding a bike, holding one of the handle bars with a phone in his hand. Granted, most people my age or older had better things to have in their hands: a bottle of water, a dog leash, a cane....like that....

But well over half the people I passed had a smart phone--not in a pocket or a case attached to their belt--but in their hand.

There could be some positive outcomes. The hand that transformed over generations to hold a smart phone couldn't possibly hold a pistol. Those hands wouldn't be able to make an obscene gesture since the middle finger couldn't straighten up. And a fist to strike a child or woman wouldn't be possible--though I wouldn't want to be hit with a hand holding a smart phone. Plus, it would mean the end to golf...not a bad thing in my mind....

I must admit, I just don't get it. I see people filling their cars with gas holding a smart phone in their hand, people shopping with one hand--reaching for Cheerios while the other hand holds a smart phone, lots of people driving with a smart phone in their hand, people at the YMCA doing a set on a machine and then going to pick up their smart phone to stare at it for several minutes, people in restaurants eating with one hand and having to put down the phone to use their knife....on and on it goes. I saw several people buying movie tickets the other day holding their phone (which was supposed to be turned off but was probably on mute so they could get the email that would forever alter their lives....I even saw some people at a cematery recently while I was interring someone they loved, holding their phones as I talked about ashes-to-ashes and dust-to-dust.

I just don't get. Maybe it's because I have a Dumb Phone that only makes and receives actual phone calls and which I can be 'texted' upon though I never read them and wouldn't know how to reply.

Maybe I'll go out and get Samsung/Android deal just to see if one of my hands starts to cramp up so I can hold it....

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The sign of the Beast

I just noticed that my last post on this blog was the 666th.

Well, it just seems reasonable to do # 667 as soon as this to get by all the nonsense....

Now I'm okay....

And so, we love....

Today, for some reason I don't understand, I've been pondering my parents.

All day they have been traveling with me and I've been trying, as best I can, to pay attention and notice them..

My mother was born on July 11, 1910 and my father on April Fool's Day 1909 (wouldn't you know it!) If they were still alive, my mother would have just turned 103 and my father would be 104. But, of course, they aren't still alive. My mother died when I was 25, the week of my birthday, and my father died years later at 83. Mom was 63 when she died so she was 38 when I was born and my father was 39.  They waited quite a while and were surprised, at those ages, to have a baby. People these days wait almost that long to start a family--but in my day, my friends had grandparents almost the age of my parents.

In the culture of the 50's and 60's, I was raised by 'old people'. By contrast, I was 28 and Bern was 25 when our son was born and 31 and 28 when our daughter was born.

What I don't understand is why they are so much with me today. It's no special day--July 20--and no special year that I can think of, and the fact that it is Saturday doesn't cause any memories in me.

It might be that I was at a gathering this morning of 8 folks at what is called The Transfiguration Community. The Transfiguration Community weeks on every third Saturday at Emmanuel Church in Killingworth, one of the three congregations I serve these day, and gladly. The community is recognized by the diocese as an 'intentional community' which means it's not a church but it is Eucharistic and Spiritual and Intentional. Everyone there goes to some Episcopal parish and in active wherever that is, but they are looking for more and Transfiguration gives them more.

They sing a hymn and then have what they call 'intercessions', which in Episcopal-speak would mean "prayers" but what 'intercessions' are instead is just sharing about your life, where you are, what's up for you...stuff you wouldn't tell someone in a bar or on an airplane...important stuff.

I was talking about my two families--the Bradley's and the Jones'. My father's family and my mother's and how different they were. The Bradley family was, for all intents and purposes, 'secular'. None of my uncles or aunts or cousins went to church except for funerals and marriages. My father went to church since my mother came from a family that were Pilgrim Holiness and Nazarene and Church of Christ (not 'Congregational'--much stricter and more fundamentalist) but, to my mind, he never 'bought it' though he did have a story about being 'saved' on top of Peel Chestnut Mountain at dawn when he pulled his dry cleaning truck over to the side of the road and met Jesus.

I never bought it. I thought it was just maternal family pressure. But who knows? Mountaintops, after all figure greatly in the lore of Jews and Christians and Muslims.

My favorite cousin, Mejol, became an Episcopalian in college and profoundly influenced me, so when the chance to try Anglicanism out in college got flopped in front of my by God (Somehow) I leaped at it, never imagining back then at 20 that I'd spend my life as a priest in the church. When I was going off to Harvard Divinity School after college (with no intention of being ordained) my Uncle Harvey, a Nazarene minister, gave me some advice. "Being an Episcopalian is far enough," he told me, "don't let those folks at Harvard turn you into a Unitarian...."

There was always a tension in my little family, though we became Methodists when my mother gave up on the judgementalism of her church toward my father. "Methodism", my father said, "won't hurt anyone very much...." Not a bad recommendation.

The Bradley side of my family drank and smokes and flaunted the narrow ways of the Jones side of my family. That might have been the best way to grow up, seeing both sides and never having to choose between them because they were all--secular liberal and fundamentalist conservative--"family".  God love 'em, you can't leave 'em.

So, I ended up in the Middle Way--the Anglican way--secular and liberal enough for the Bradley family and spiritual (in an odd way) enough for the Jones family. But there you go. Push and Pull. Ying and Yang. Right and Left. Not a bad way to end up the way I did....

I'm really glad Virgil and Cleo have seemed so present and alive to me today. It's...it feels good and reminds me of where I came from and how much I loved them (in my own way) and how much they loved me (in their own way)....

Hey, Mom and Dad, been nice being with you so vividly today....Let's do it again soon....okay? (I ask because I suspect you two have something to do with the whole thing....at least that's what I believe....)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Next there'll be the cat saunter....

On the train back from NYC today, a woman behind me was on her cell phone. She was talking to a friend much louder than necessary and letting her know this: "oh, the dog parade is called off for today."

A pause as she listened. Then she said, "I guess it's too hot for the dogs...."

I turned to Bern who was reading and said, 'did you hear the dog parade was called off?"

She nodded, "how could I not?" she said.

Then I started thinking about 'the dog parade'.

"Do you think they play instruments?" I asked.

"Or march in little uniforms?" she replied.

"Or strut or dance?" At that Bern started making arm movements like someone in a New Orleans brass band or a majorette.

"Maybe they carry flags," I said, and she pretended to carry a flag with a look on her face that looked ever so much dog-like.

"Do you think the dogs refused to march because of the heat?" I inquired.

Then we sat and rode the train and pondered such a think as a 'dog parade' to begin with.

"That's just crazy," I said, "dogs would never decide to have a parade. They'd just all be smelling each others' butts....and besides, they don't have thumbs so they can't carry flags or tubas or anything....."

After Bern did an imitation of how our dog, Bad Dog Bela, would march and bark at everything and everyone, I said, "only people in Greenwich or Southport would even think of such a thing as a dog parade...or maybe New Canaan...."

The train didn't stop in Greenwich, but the woman who was distressed about the cancellation of the dog parade got off at Southport. She was still talking too loudly on her Smart Phone, probably still wondering when the dogs would reschedule....

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

going to see Mimi

Tomorrow, Bern and I are riding the train to see Mimi and Tim in Grand Central Station and then we'll ride the train back to New Haven and drive home. About 40 minutes of driving, 4 hours of riding the train and an hour with Tim and a couple of hours with Mimi all in a train station in New York City.

But we'll be cool....Which is the thing to be tomorrow since it will be the hottest day so far and the days leading up to it have been hot enough.

Mimi and Tim are now engaged. They're talking about a Fall 2014 wedding, which is hard to put on your calendar....

We've seen Mimi since the engagement, but not Tim.

We love them both so much and will be spending the last week of August and beginning of September with them on Oak Island, NC, along with our two friends, John Anderson and Sherry Ellis. It is always up there as the best week of the year.

My prayer for you is that you have family like Mimi and Tim and friends like John and Sherry in your lives.

The older I get (and I'm getting older every day!) the more I ponder 'what's important'. And I'm coming down on the side of family and friends....

Episcopalians, odd to me, often don't have 'thanksgivings' when the prayers of the people come to that. I always whisper, "Bern, Josh, Cathy, Morgan, Emma, Tegan, Mimi and Tim and my friends" under my breath. I think I'll start saying it loud each week. Maybe it will encourage others to ponder what family and friends mean to them....That's what I would hope.

"Pondering" is about the best thing you can do. Just sitting with your thoughts and wondering what it's all about.

I recommend it highly--right up there with giving thanks for family and friends.....

Be well and stay well.....

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Today I was part of the funeral and burial of Arlene--someone I never met and yet know very well and who was a gift to me in a profound way.

It started like this: my friend, Maggie, who I know because we both do work for the Mastery Foundation, called me, oh, I think it was six months ago though linear time is not my strong suite. She called with what at the time seemed like a strange request though it turned out to be a gift I never deserved (though who among us deserves the gifts life sends us?)

Maggie's cousin, Arlene, was terminally ill. And I think what Maggie wanted was for someone who was 'spiritual' (though that hardly applies to me) to be in Arlene's life as she moved toward 'that good night'. There were a couple of calls from Maggie and I emailed her something about a story of a young monk who was telling his superior that he was having difficulty meditating because people kept showing up in his life that took his attention. And the Prior told the young monk, "whenever people show up when I'm trying to be contemplative, I always say, 'Jesus Christ, are you here again?'"

Something like that. But any way, since I couldn't say 'no' to Maggie ever, I called Arlene.

The first call was really strange, "Hi,", I said, "you don't know me but Maggie sent me to be your....I don't know what...."

Arlene laughed. And her laugh hooked me.

I talked to her on the phone a more than a dozen times over those months, for hours and hours, and it was always her laughter that hooked me. Arlene, this woman who had battled cancer for 12 years, found something worth laughing about most of the time we were talking. And though I knew from Maggie that Arlene was in pain and losing weight and in hospice care in her home, she was gracious and lovely and positive and oh, so humorous all the time.

We never got around to 'serious spiritual stuff' (what I call 'sss'). And every conversation was full of life and wonder and hope--and if that isn't 'spiritual' I don't know what is.

I never got up to where she lived--somewhere in a part of upstate New York that was as familiar to me as Bulgaria. It would have been a nearly 4 hour drive and she always talked me out it coming to see her--mostly because, I think, she never wanted people to make a fuss about her. But I'm almost glad that we only knew each other on the phone. There was an open casket at the funeral and I realized Arlene didn't look anything like I had imagined her. She was gaunt to a fault--most likely because of the struggle with her disease--and had reddish hair. I had imagined her as a bit over-weight and perky and twinkle eyed and having gray hair. I'm sort of glad that the healthy and vital person of our phone conversations remained the image of her that I had. There were pictures of her around the funeral home and she had been beautiful in her youth, but I'm somehow glad I 'knew' her as the way she sounded--full of life and joy and irony and humor--instead of seeing her in the last stages of her disease.

For me, Arlene was always vital and optimistic and so fully alive. The shell that was her body in that casket wasn't the woman I knew and learned to love. I'll keep my image of her as 'being Arlene' rather than the image of her corpse.

(That's probably why I don't like open coffins at wakes and funerals. I think people should remember people who have died as 'alive'. That's why I've arranged for a funeral director friend to use a flame thrower to cremate me where I fall....Don't look at my dead body, remember me as alive and ironic and a bit crazy....OK?)

Anyway, the funeral was in a place called Haverstraw, up Route 9 across the Tappen Zee bridge, far enough north to have 'real' mountains and the Hudson River being the Hudson River. And one of Arlene's step-sons (I think, I never got the relations down very well) and a friend who had known her since they were in grade school and two of her granddaughters--one very beautiful and the other beautifully boyish--spoke along with Michael, Maggie's husband, reading an email from Maggie, who was in Europe with their daughter. And nothing any of them said did anything but reinforce the Arlene I knew but had never met. Wondrous, full of humor, never complaining, ALIVE, just like that, ALIVE....

Maggie had called me wondering if she should leave the country with Arlene so near to death. I told her what her cousin told her the last time Maggie saw Arlene, "go have some fun" and then she hit her on the shoulder with her frail fist.

Michael seemed to be sending Maggie the service. His smart phone was on a chair in the front row of the funeral home chapel and leaned against the tombstone next to Arlene's grave. I never understand social media stuff, but I did talk to Maggie as the hearse driver was about to take me back to the funeral home from the steep slope where Arlene will spend time (overlooking the Hudson, quite a view). She was still beating herself up a bit for not being there, but that's just crazy. She should have been with her daughter, absolutely, even Arlene told her so, with a punch to her arm.

Here's the thing, you just never know what life will hand you and there is never enough thanksgiving to give for the gifts. Arlene became a part of my life. I've told lots of people about her and half a dozen or more of the folks at the funeral told me she had told them about me.

Someone you never met, face to face, can bring wonder and grace and beauty and great good humor into your life, over a cell phone over six months or so.

What a gift that seemingly crazy invitation Maggie gave me to call her dying cousin turned out to be. I love Arlene. It was a joy and privilege and humbling experience it was to count her as a friend, never met, and to be a part of her 'leaving'.

I once counted up the funerals I had been a part of. It was close to a thousand. Imagine that, being a part of the 'leaving' and walking them to their graves....almost a thousand people. What a humbling honor and privilege.

And this one really mattered in a way I still do not understand.

Often in life, when I'm trying to do something else that I think is important, I find myself saying, "Jesus Christ, is it you again?"

Thank you Maggie. Thank you Arlene. Thank you God. Thank you Life....really....

Monday, July 15, 2013

flies and my finger tip....

Do you remember Nancy and Sluggo?

If you don't then you're too young to understand 'Truth, Justice and the American Way...."

Nancy and Sluggo were the characters in a comic strip. One I remember after all these years has Sluggo telling Nancy why he loves winter: "No hot days, no sweating, no mosquitoes or gnats or flies..."

Then snow falls out of a tree and covers Sluggo and Nancy says, ...."no Sluggo...."

I do hate flies.

I kill six or seven a day and Bern does as well....

Then I almost cut the tip of my ring finger off on the lid of a pull off can of artichoke hearts. I hate pull off tops and am always afraid I'm going to cut myself. I was holding the can in my left hand and pulling the little pull tab with my right hand and suddenly the can was open and I was bleeding all over the counter top and in the sink and on the floor.

I could tell from the copious blood that it was a bad cut but I couldn't stop the bleeding to see how bad it was. So Bern gave me a bag of ice and I pressed it against the cut and wrapped it in a kitchen towel and she drove me to urgent care about five minutes away.

I know all about finger cuts since two thanksgivings ago I started to open a drawer to get a spoon and the antique glass knob shattered and cut my right index finger so badly I need  stitches and only now can bend it fully. That day my friend John and my daughter Mimi took me to the Mid-state emergency room and it took an hour and a half and Mimi kept taking pictures of the stitching on her phone and sending them to Tim to show Bern and Hanne, who were at home waiting for dinner.

This time Bern took me and couldn't stay in the room because she has this thing with blood, but I got four stitches and we were home in 40 minutes.

(Bern's blood thing looks like this: once Mimi who was 2 1/2 cut her head in our house in New Haven and it bled like all forehead wounds do, so Josh, 5 1/2, called me at the church and said, "Mimi is dying!"

The church was next door and when I got there in a few minutes, Josh was still screaming about his sister's demise, Bern had a dish towel over the cut and told me to press hard, then she fainted dead away, luckily she was sitting on the floor and hadn't far to fall. Then Josh started screaming, "Mommy is dying!".... Bern's 'blood thing' is like that....)

The ring finger types the letters: swq2 and x and any time I've had to type 'w' it's come out w3e or something like that so to write this I've done lots of deleting and backspacing....Just want you to realize how hard I've had to work--with a bum finger and all.....

Sunday, July 14, 2013

my huge, absolutely fabulous, wonderous day....

So, last night, it pains me to tell you, I spilled about a half glass of white wine (Pinot Grigio) on my computer keyboard. Let it be said, it was the first glass of the night and the glass was cold and slick and all that....Really....

But then when I tried to pull up the text of the sermon for today, suddenly 80 different documents showed up on my screen. When I finally got them all back in the document library, I tried to google my blog to write about how weird that was, I typed "blogspot" and it came out 'Ux23sok" on the google line.

The advice I've always gotten about how to fix glitches in a computer is to unplug it and plug it in again. So I did. And then turned it back on and got to my password and typed in the 9 characters of my password and what showed up in the password space was '***********************', more than twice the number of things I typed.

So I called my friend John, who does my computer stuff for me and didn't hear back and decided that  my keyboard must be fried. Still not hearing from John today, I took my keyboard to Staples and asked if they could tell me if it were fried or not. But they couldn't tell me because I hadn't brought some thing-a-majig I didn't even know existed that was plugged into my computer somewhere I didn't realize was there that made the wireless keyboard work. So I mentioned the thing about trying to bring up a document and was told (much to my surprise) that a keyboard and a mouse live in the same universe and if one is fried, they both are.

So I bought a keyboard and mouse and thing-a-majig made by Microsoft (since there is no billionaire I'd rather give my money to than Bill Gates who does so much good through his Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

Then I got home and almost broke down in tears because I had no idea how to do anything at all about a computer beyond turning it on, clicking and typing.

But I put the AAA batteries in the keyboard and the AA batteries in the mouse (though I put the ones in the keyboard in wrong which I realized when the dam thing wouldn't work)--the fact that Microsoft has batteries included makes me love Bill and Melinda even more....

Then I traced the old mouse back through the tangle of wires John has on my computer and found the little plug in hickey (I still don't know it's name) and unplugged that one and plugged in the new one and lo and behold, here I am typing again (after the keyboard battery thing, of course)!

It is a fabulous experience for me to actually fix something about my computer without John's help! I love John like a brother and appreciate all he does for me but sometimes I feel like I'm always standing in front of him with a pitiful look on my face, holding up my empty bowl and saying, 'more gruel please....


Or maybe not. Maybe it was just dumb luck.

But it feels real good (as modest as it may seem) to me....Fabulous in fact....

That calls for a glass of white wine....just not near the keyboard this time....

Friday, July 12, 2013

Going to the Country...

 (It's an occupational hazard, when you're a priest, that people think you know what happens when we die. I have no idea. Some things I leave to God and that's one of them. But I did write this once and it comes as close as anything to my imaginings of an after-life....)

Going to the Country

My father had a compulsion about ‘leaving early’ that bordered on a mental illness. And that never showed itself with such clarity as when we went to ‘the country’. Truth is, where we lived was ‘country’—extremely rural. I grew up in a town with less than 500 residents and McDowell County was about 1/3 the size of Rhode Island and had some 68,000 citizens when I was growing up—nearer 25,000 now, which makes it a ‘ghost county’ rather than merely ‘rural’. Nevertheless, we called Monroe County, where my father grew up, ‘the country’ and when we went there we had to leave an hour or two before dawn.
When I was smaller, he would take me from my bed and put me in the backseat of whatever Ford he owned at the time and we’d stop somewhere along the two hour drive for me to put on the clothes my mother had brought for me. Later, he would simply wake me up at 4 a.m. and tell me “it’s time to go to the country.” We went once or twice a month, leaving before dawn on Saturday and coming back in the early afternoon of Sunday. I have hazy and dream filled memories of those early morning trips. We’d arrive before 6 a.m. at the house where my father lived as a boy and be greeted by my Grandmother Bradley—her name was Clieve, pronounced ClE-vE, which, if were short for anything I never learned what. I was a teen-ager when I realized that Clieve wasn’t truly my grandmother—she was my step-grandmother, the wife of my grandfather in his later life, after my father’s mother had died. But that wasn’t simply an oversight—not knowing our actual relationship—it was the way the Bradley side of my family operated. I grew up calling lots of Bradley relations “aunt” or “uncle” only to realize when I was older that they weren’t aunts or uncles at all. This for example: Aunt Ursa and Aunt Denie (Geraldine) were the children of “Aunt Annie” and “Uncle Buford”, who were, in truth, my father’s Aunt and Uncle. That made Ursa and Geraldine my second cousins! Such misrepresentation would have never happened on the Jones side of my family. The Jones’ were very precise about relationships—“your third cousin by marriage”, like that. The Bradley’s were less formal and anybody you were related to might be called “aunt” or “uncle”—it just didn’t matter as much to them. My actual first cousin Greg Bradley (well, actually, actually my double-cousin, according to the Jones’, since his mother was my mother’s first cousin and his father was my father’s brother…but the Jones clan kept score relentlessly) tried to put together a genealogy for the Bradley family but kept running into trouble since no one seemed to know the exact relationship of relatives!
Uncle Ezra is a good example. I called him Uncle Ezra all my life but as close as I can get to figuring out how we were related was this: Ezra was the first cousin of Filbert, my grandfather, and Annie, my father’s aunt. That means that ‘Uncle’ Ezra’s mother was the daughter of my great-grand mother’s sister. So, if I can do the math, that would make him my third cousin, once removed, whatever the hell that means! I need a Jones relative to help me sort it out. All I know is that he was Uncle Ezra to me.
Ezra was a tiny man married to ‘Aunt Clovis’ (actually my third cousin, once removed, by marriage—go ponder that!) who was a woman of substance, which means, in Bradley Family Speak, she was a big, big woman. The last time I saw Ezra on this side of the mysterious door of death, his eyes looked into my chin. I was only 14 or so and about 5’7” tall (I reached my full growth at 15 which explains why I was a star on my junior high basketball team and didn’t make the cut in high school). I suppose, just guessing, Ezra was 5’4” or so and probably weighed 115 pounds. At 14, when Clovis hugged her ‘nephew’, my face was pressed against her ample breasts. So, she might have been 5’10 and weighed, let’s be Bradley nice now…220 pounds. Jack Sprat and his wife, for sure—that was Uncle Ezra and Aunt Clovis.
Ezra’s stature was fertile ground for jokes his whole life. One story I was told a hundred and one times over the years was about the night Uncle Ezra got saved. It seems he had gone to a revival meeting and felt his heart convicted to give his life to Jesus. He’d gone up to kneel at the rail and when the out-of-town revivalist came by to pray with him, that preacher said, “God bless the little boys….” Well, as it turned out, Ezra was 22 years old and long since fully grown. After the service some of the local young men gathered around Ezra and started saying, over and over: “God bless the little boys….”
As the apocryphal family story goes, Ezra, who was little but not meek, hitched up his pants and told the crowd around him, “I’d rather be a little fellow like me and go to heaven than great big sons-of-bitches like you and go to hell.” Well spoken, Uncle Ezra, well said….
Uncle Ezra, like most of the Bradley side of my family, was a man not unacquainted with strong drink. Whenever we visited my father and Uncle Russell would disappear with Ezra into the barn of his farm while I was being loved up and fed sweets by Aunt Clovis. When they returned, a half-an-hour later or so, they were flushed and glassy eyed and full of salt and vinegar. Aunt Clovis would shake her head and say, either to me or the cosmos, “Men have to drink, but not in my house….” Most of the men on the Bradley side of my family, all of whom liked a drink or two, seemed inevitably to marry women who didn’t approve of alcohol. My Uncle Sid was the exception that proved the rule. He and my Aunt Callie (who was both my aunt and my second cousin—go figure my family!) both liked a taste….God bless them.
When Ezra died (since I’m still on him and will get back to Grandmother Clieve soon) I was 15 or so. He died in February of one of the winters of my life. His funeral was in the Union Church (Baptist 1st and 3rd Sundays, Methodist 2nd and 4th) in Waiteville. The preacher took a great deal of time preaching Uncle Ezra’s funeral since the young men hand digging the grave were having a hard time. They’d started two days before but the ground was so frozen and it was so cold to dig that they kept having to pause for coffee and a drink of bourbon, just to warm them up. But after a dozen or so pauses those first two days, they were too drunk to dig. One of them kept coming in to whisper to the preacher that the grave wasn’t quite deep enough yet, so the sermon got longer and longer. Finally, after we’d been there for almost three hours, one of the grave diggers stumbled up the aisle and said, in slurred speech, “da hol is ready, preeecher,”
So Ezra joined the scores of those sleeping in that little country cemetery. Many of them are somehow related to me. I remember on one Memorial day, wandering through the graveyard, coming upon two worn tombstones with my name on them: James Gordon Bradley. The sky was white, as in often is in those climes, and I felt dizzy for a while. It was my great-grandfather and my great-great-grandfather. I hadn’t realized I had a ‘family name’ since it skipped two generations. My grandfather was Filbert and my father was Virgil—good time to go back to what worked in the past!
Most Memorial Days, my crazy ‘Aunt Arbana’, who I never saw because she was crazy and a recluse (and Lord knows what my true relationship with her was—she was probably a fifth cousin once removed or something) would come over before anyone else got there and put little Confederate flags on the graves of many of my distant relatives. Uncle Russell would take them off in a huff while Uncle Del was laughing and Uncle Sid was making jokes. My father would just shake his head and wonder. “Some year I’m going to take them and stick them up her ass,” Russell would say. “Do we even know where she lives now?” Del would ask. “Or how big her ass is?” Sid would ask.
Back at Aunt Clovis’ house, after Ezra had joined his not so clearly defined ancestors in the so frozen and so rocky dirt of the Waiteville Cemetery, I noticed that there were several bottles of whisky set out with all chicken and green beans and pies and cakes. At that time, I simply noticed it—now I wonder, why couldn’t that have been so when Ezra was alive and thirsty?
We’d arrive at Clieve’s house and she would start talking the minute we came up the walk. She was the most talkative person I’ve ever met. When you were with her you were reduced to listening and listening only, with an occasional nod or clucking in surprise. My father’s brothers—Del and Russell and Sid—would never come to stay with her. Russell had a farm in Waiteville through his wife’s family—she was a LaFon, just like my aunt Annie’s husband (actually my great uncle by marriage—I’ll stop trying to explain my family now!) but Russell’s wife Gladys wasn’t from the same LaFons as Annie’s husband…just because I’m from West Virginia doesn’t mean I’m the product of massive intermarriage). In fact, one of them spelled it with a small ‘f’ and the other with a capital ‘F’, though for the life of me I don’t remember which was which now. Anyway, my father’s brothers wouldn’t visit Clieve because she never stopped talking and they couldn’t stand her, never had. But we always stayed with her when we were in the country.
So, surrounded in stereo by Clieve’s constant chatter (oh, by the way, though I called her “Grandmaw”, my father called her Aunt Clieve though she was his step mother—one last example of the looseness of the Bradley clan regarding relationships) we’d enter the little house to the smell of a full breakfast. By ‘full breakfast’ I mean this: sausage gravy, scratch biscuits, fried apples, grits swimming in butter, country ham and red eye gravy, eggs fried within an inch of their lives so the yoke was hard and the edges were brown and crunchy, coffee perking on the stove, three kinds of home canned preserves, fresh churned butter, and potatoes cut thin and fried in bacon grease plus the bacon they were fried in. Clieve must have been up before my father to assemble such a feast by 6 a.m. I had a method to the madness of such a meal. I put sausage gravy on my eggs, biscuit and potatoes and red-eye gravy over my grits and ham (usually a lot since red-eye gravy is made with coffee instead of water and my parents wouldn’t give me coffee yet). Then I’d have another plate for apples and biscuits with butter and preserves. Lordy, lordy, what a banquet! It was in Grandmaw Bradley’s kitchen, under the drone of her gossip and stories (like elevator music, in a way) that I came to believe, as I believe to this day, that gravy is a food group.
We made that trip to the country dozens and dozens of times while I was growing up. And the day we never missed was Memorial Day. There was a Memorial Day dinner in the grange hall that raised the money each year for the upkeep of the Waiteville cemetery where generations after generations of my family lay sleeping. People who had years before moved away came back on memorial day because someone they had loved was in that cemetery and the only way to insure the well-being of that four acre plot of hilly ground was to buy your ticket to the Memorial Day Dinner and eat yourself into oblivion.
I’d be introduced to and shown off to about a hundred people who I was told were my relatives every Memorial Day. Given the Bradley proclivity of fudging relationships, I have no idea how many of those people actually shared my DNA. But let me try to tell you what there was to eat.
There was pork ribs cooked off the bone with sour kraut, fried chicken to die for—crispy on the outside and cooked to juicy perfection within, country ham sliced as thin as paper (as it must be) and cured ham pink and tender, beef stew that would melt in your mouth, baked chicken, and fried pork chops. There was corn—on the cob, slathered with melted butter; creamed, cut from the ear; beans cooked in bacon with potatoes you didn’t have to chew; squash of many sorts (which I didn’t like as a child and long for now); tomatoes huge as softballs cut into thick slices; cucumbers and onions cut up and brined in vinegar; tomato stew with dumplings; fried onions and peppers; rhubarb cooked to tender, tart perfection; creamed onions and peas; green salad made from lime jello, nuts and cottage cheese; red jello with fruit cocktail suspended in it; baby carrots cooked with brown sugar and walnuts; slaw—both vinegar and mayonnaise based; and tossed salad with vinegar and oil. There was, for desert: pecan pie, cherry pie, apple pie, fried apple pie, strawberry and rhubarb pie, German chocolate cake, devil’s food cake, angel’s food cake and homemade ice cream to pile on top of it all. And to drink there would be (what else) sweet tea and perked coffee…is there any other kind of tea, any other kind of coffee, really?
Here’s the point to all this: one of the images that Jesus uses for the Kingdom is the image of the Heavenly Banquet. I take great joy in that and in the passages from the gospels where the resurrected Jesus seems hungry. If there is a life to come—and for me the jury is still out, probably will be until I come face to face with my finitude and stare off into oblivion or whatever comes next—I am ecstatic to imagine there will be eating and drinking there. And that Jesus chose to leave us as a metaphor of what heaven is like, a table set with fair linen and candles where we share in a Eucharistic feast of bread and wine—that is the kicker for me.
Breakfast at Grandmaw Clieve’s house and dinner at the Memorial Day dinner—I couldn’t ask for anything more. Over the years I have certainly developed a palate for other things: Chinese, Thai, Italian, French cuisines; however, if it is eternity we’re talking about, for my taste those two menus will suffice for the first eon or so.
I don’t have a view of heaven much past a place where there are giant women—like Aunt Clovis, sitting in enormous rocking chairs who will rock you and sing to you and stroke you whenever you want. But beyond that, the best I can do with the whole life/death thing is to imagine that someday I’ll be lifted from my bed by strong, loving arms and placed in the backseat of a car, covered carefully with a blanket and, after a trip of confusion and dreams, I’ll wake up “in the country.”
That’s the best I can do about ‘heaven’.
And, for me, at any rate, it works….

Thursday, July 11, 2013


I have two pairs of glasses. Both are retro looking. The pair I wear most have black on everything but the very bottom of the lenses. The other pair is plastic and clear all over. Both of them get me complements from strange places. I was wearing the black and clear ones at UConn, Waterbury and three students--one black, one Asian, one Hispanic--complemented me on them.

"Cool glasses," the black guy said.

"Like your frames," the Asian guy said.

"Yeah! Your glasses," the Hispanic guy said.

No women of any ethnicity and no white men ever commented. Take from that what you will.

The truth is, the mostly black glasses are the oldest of the two. When I got the clear ones, the opthamologist gave me too many "this better or that better?" and the distinctions were too severe and I ended up with glasses, though new, that I couldn't see as well through as my older ones. So, I wear the black (mostly) ones until I lose them and when I do I wear the clear ones until I find the others. And I loose my glasses a lot since I really only need them to really watch TV, to drive and that's about all.

If I never watched TV from 8 or more feet away and never drove, I wouldn't wear glasses at all.

It was not always so.

As a child my vision was 240/20. Which meant I couldn't see the blackboard in first grade and thought I was stupid. My mother, a first grade teacher herself, knew for a fact I wasn't stupid so we went and got glasses for me. (Bern, whose vision was not much less nearsighted than mine, and I knew our kids would need glasses and got them much before 1st Grade. Two of our three grandchildren have glasses at 6 and are not stupid. But then, both their parents are blind in a way so who's surprised?

Bern and I have both had cataracts removed from both our eyes. Mine were nearly 20 years ago and probably caused by the steroids I've taken for allergies over the years of my life though my allergist would never admit that. Never mind, I got 30/20 vision from that. Bern had her surgeries about 7 years ago and got vision that can be corrected to 20/20 by one soft contact. She wears glasses to watch TV when her contact is out.

Here's the thing: wearing glasses has been so much of 'who I am' that if I had perfect vision I'd probably get glasses with plate glass in them.

People I know who have never worn glasses and now need at least reading glasses are so awkward and embarrassed about them that it is painful to watch.

For me, glasses just come with the territory. I AM my glasses and my glasses ARE me....just like that.....

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


I love rain, everything about it. I should live in Seattle or Scotland or somewhere where it rains a lot.

Truth is, it rains about as much in Connecticut as it does in Seattle. I looked it up.

Thing is, we folks in New England don't brag much about things--even rain.

Late this afternoon I sat out on the back porch and watched it rain like crazy for almost half-an-hour. The temperature dropped from 78 to 69 while I watched. One reason to love rain.

Of course, as soon as the rain stopped, the heat revved up again, only wetter....

One reason I love to go to the beach in North Carolina is that thunder storms, which happen almost daily, are so astonishing. Lots of black, black clouds and stiff sea breezes and lightening over the ocean and thunder rolling and rolling and rolling.

What's not to like about rain, that what I want to know?

Let it come. Let it pour....

Monday, July 8, 2013

Where I've lived

I've been pondering (now that I'm six and a half more decades into this life) where I've lived. I took some time and made a list.

1) I lived the first 18 years of my life in a two bedroom apartment over Barney Yates grocery store on the main street (almost the only street!) in Anawalt, West Virginia (pop. 400) until Barney closed his store about the time I was 13. After that, winter's were colder since there was no central heat and the heat from Barney's stoves--2 of them I remember--rose and made our apartment warmer. There was a back porch some 30 feet above the ground that used to terrify me because my cousin Marlin used to love getting outside the railing and walking around out there.

2) I lived one year in Arthur I. Boreman Hall, a freshman dorm in the midst of the downtown campus of West Virginia University. I lived there with Mike Lawless, my friend from high school.

3) I lived one year at (get this) 69 Richwood Avenue in Morgantown with three roommates--Mike Lawless who was there the first semester and Mike Miano (another high school friend) who was there second semester since both Mike's were Mining Engineer students and had one semester on and one off to work for a coal company. Our other roommate was Doc Likens, who one of the Mike's knew, who was from Summersville and a total slob.

4) The next year I lived in a room at 75 Richwood Avenue and my high school--lifetime long friend--Jo-jo Tagnesi lived in another room there and we shared a bathroom. The old woman who owned the house, whose name I do not remember, was happy to have two 'boys' who were quiet and studious, except when Jo-jo's mother would mail him a roast chicken and a holiday would fall in between when she mailed it and we got it and the whole house would smell for days.

5) My last year of college I lived in a dorm whose name I don't remember being a dorm monitor for Freshman who had gotten in at the last minute. It was a horrible job but I endured it since it was free room and board.

*Just to be transparent, my parents bought a house (for cash!) in Princeton, West Virginia, a town of 20,000 or so, when I was a freshman in college. So I lived there each summer of my college life except for after my Junior year when I was a camp counselor in a camp in Logan County, West Virginia.

6) I lived in Divinity Hall on Kirkland Street in Cambridge, MA in the academic year 1969-70. I met Dan Kiger, one of the best friends I've ever had, in Divinity Hall. I haven't seen him for a couple of decades, but if we met, I would imagine we'd take right up where we left off.

7) My second year in Cambridge, I lived on Kirkland Street, in an apartment next to a Jewish Deli, just 20 yards or so from Sommerville. It was the last habitation before Cambridge turned into Sommerville. Bern and I lived there the first year of our marriage. It was not easy, let me tell you. I was completing a master's degree at Harvard Divinity School and she was going to Northeastern University and I was 23 and she was 20 and we had no idea whatsoever of what being married was about.....

8) I almost forgot the year we lived in a trailor....Bern and I. Out near the Med School in Morgantown where we'd moved so she could finish her degree in drama and I could teach school, having qualified through the National Teacher's Exam while still in Cambridge. (Dan Kiger helped us move and gave us $75 when he drove back to Ohio. We needed it.) However, when they saw my shoulder length hair and huge beard, they lost my file and I didn't have a teaching job. We went on food stamps and I found a job at the Public TV station in Morgantown (located beside the morgue of the Med School) as a cameraman and made so little money we still qualified for food stamps and had an incident trying to get my food stamps and the head of the Welfare Department told me to take the Social Service test, which I did, and being good at tests, if nothing else, became a social worker.

9) Bern and I moved to Forrest Avenue and it was there I was convinced by a Saint named Miriah to go back to Seminary. I stayed on at Forrest Avenue for 9 months or so, while Bern moved to New York and acted in several off-Broadway shows.

10) We reunited in Alexandria, on Kenmore Street in a Garden Apartment for two years until I graduated from VTS and was ordained. Bern did dinner theatre and waited tables to support us.

11) We lived on Richwood Avenue in Charleston WV for 5  years while I was Vicar of St. James, Charleston and Episcopal Chaplain to West Virginia State College. My first year I earned $14,000, which was enough to live well in Charleston in 1975. Both our remarkable children were born in Charleston. If for no other reason, the five years there were some of the best of my life....

12) I was elected Rector of St. Paul's in New Haven, CT and we lived at 612 Chapel Street until I went a bit crazy and Bern and I separated.

13) For almost a year I lived in an apartment down by the water in New Haven and Bern and the kids lived in an apartment up on the hill near the Divinity School.

14) When our relationship was transformed, we moved to Everitt Street in a wondrous rented house with a cat attached. We lived there until June 1989 when I was called to be Rector of St. John's in Waterbury.

15) Then we moved to 95 Cornwall Avenue in Cheshire where we've been ever since and I hope to be until I die. We've lived here for 24 years, longer than I've lived anywhere, long enough to launch our children into live beyond us, long enough to realize this might be the best years of our lives, long enough to know ever inch of this house and love each one, long enough to know we are, after all these wild and wondrous years--Home at last....

(Reviewing: I lived 30 years in West Virginia, 2 years in Cambridge, 2 years in Alexandria and all the rest, 32 years in Connecticut. 32 years below the Mason-Dixon Line and 34 years in New England. Got that?)

I have pondered so many things reviewing the places I've lived and discovered so much, that if I weren't too humble to suggest it, I would suggest you take pen and paper and make a list of everywhere you've lived and ponder what it all means and what you learn by doing that exercise. I would recommend it, really....half an hour to remember where you 'come from' might just tell you multitudes about the Past and open up some possibilities about the Future.

Just me talkin'.....But ponder it. I encourage that pondering......

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Christmas in July

As Auntie Mame sang, "we need a little Christmas, right this very minute...."

It so hot I thought I'd share a Christmas story with you. Every year for the past 7 years or so, I write something for Bern and she makes me something. Lots of writings, lots of art. She really is great about it. Last Christmas she gave me a table in the shape of West Virginia--go figure how she did that.

The Life of Riley

(A story of Christmas)

for Bern
Christmas 2008

It was snowing. Aunt Jane and Uncle Luke—and before him, Uncle Bob—had told Riley that it almost never snowed in Charlotte, but she didn’t know, being only six. And her name wasn’t “Riley” anymore, Aunt Jane told her it was “Sarah Ann”. Her name had been “Riley” once upon a time, she remembered that and she remembered the last time she saw it snow.

The last time she’d seen it snow was when she was just barely four. She was standing on the front porch of a house in a place called “Riley”, just like her name, though her mommy and daddy laughed when she said that and told her the place she lived was ‘Raleigh’ and not to forget it.

“If you’re ever lost and need help,” her mommy told her over and over, “tell someone that your name is Riley and you live in Raleigh.” Her mommy also told her the name of the street where she lived and her last name, but Riley—Sarah Ann—had long ago forgotten all that. She tried to remember when it started to snow in Charlotte. “My name is Riley and I live in Raleigh,” she said to herself, but she couldn’t remember the rest, not even her last name since her name now was Sarah Ann Smith and she lived in Charlotte with Aunt Jane and Uncle Luke.

The last thing she remembered from that previous snow was watching her mommy walk to a car, all dressed in white like the snow with a blue raincoat around her shoulders, and her daddy wearing brown and walking to a big brown truck. Riley—Sarah Ann—had learned her colors early and she always remembered that, especially on that morning in December when it started snowing, unusually, in Charlotte, where she was Sarah Ann and lived with Aunt Jane and Uncle Luke. She couldn’t even remember her parents’ faces anymore and she hadn’t seen them in a long, long time.

“What are you doing Sarah?” Uncle Luke said from behind her. She had her knees on the couch and her face pressed against the apartment’s living room window, watching it snow. Uncle Luke’s voice—like Uncle Bob’s before him—was coarse and nearly angry.

Sarah slid down on the couch, turning away from the wonder of snow. “Nothing,” she said, softly. “It’s snowing.”

Sarah glanced up when he didn’t respond. He was rubbing his eyes. Uncle Luke was very big and dressed in a white tee-shirt, stained under the arms and a pair of shorts. His face was covered with the stubble of beard that she had felt on her cheeks before. Uncle Luke had never hurt her in the way Uncle Bob had but he had rubbed his rough face against her face when it was bedtime. She remembered how Aunt Jane had screamed and turned all red and beat Uncle Bob with her fists when she found him hurting her. She remembered the policemen coming and taking Uncle Bob away. She should have told the policemen she was Riley and lived in Raleigh, but she hurt too much and couldn’t think straight.

She could have told the people in the hospital, all dressed in white, like her mother as she disappeared into the snow, that she was Riley and lived in Raleigh but they were all too busy and too grownup to understand. And she was too scared to talk. She’d been only five, she reminded herself and not a big girl of six yet. So Aunt Jane took her out of the hospital, still in her gown, telling her to be quiet, and they’d gone to a motel again. Then they moved and sometime after that Uncle Luke came to live with them. Uncle Luke never hurt her but he was usually either mean or angry and only sometimes gentle and always smelled of something smoky sweet—like the soda Aunt Jane loved in the big brown bottles.

“Jane needs you to help with breakfast,” Uncle Luke finally said. “Go help her.”

Sarah knew how to do that. She was always helpful to Aunt Jane, ever since that snowy morning long ago when Jane told her, “come on, let’s take a ride.”

Sarah…Riley…had enjoyed rides with Aunt Jane. Sometimes they went to the park where there were swings to swing on and other kids to play with. Sometimes they went to the store where she sat in a cart looking at Aunt Jane while they went up and down the aisles getting things to eat and hearing people tell Aunt Jane what a lovely daughter she had. Sometimes Aunt Jane took her to Uncle Bob’s apartment and Riley could watch TV while Aunt Jane and Uncle Bob were in the bedroom crying and making other noises.

But that day, the day her daddy walked to a big truck and her mommy went to the car, Aunt Jane had taken her to Uncle Bob’s and after a lot of yelling, the three of them drove a long way and stayed in a motel for days and then had an apartment in Charlotte. That’s when her name changed to Sarah Ann and Aunt Jane told her the awful things that had happened to her mommy and daddy.

“Your daddy went to prison,” Aunt Jane told her, though Riley didn’t know what that meant. “You go to prison in a big truck. And your mommy went with him. They’ll never come back. You’re going to live with me now….”

Riley cried for days and days and always asked for her mommy and daddy and her dog, but Aunt Jane told her not to cry, she’d see them in heaven and her name was Sarah Ann now.

“But I’m Riley from Raleigh,” she told Aunt Jane over and over, through a river of tears and an ocean of fear.

“No more, darlin’,” Aunt Jane said softly. “Now you are Sarah Ann and you live with me…..”

It took a long time—Riley didn’t understand much about time then, but it was three months before she stopped asking for her mommy and daddy and began to hope she’d see them in heaven, wherever that was, and that she now lived with Aunt Jane and her name was Sarah Ann.

She wasn’t unhappy, though such a thought as “unhappiness” hadn’t occurred to her yet. Aunt Jane loved her and took care of her and though Uncle Bob had been mean, Uncle Luke was just angry—and sometimes, gentle. So time passed and she became Sarah Ann. Until that unexpected Charlotte snow.

Christmas was coming and Lt. Don Marks of the Raleigh Police Department was feeling anxious. A week before Christmas, two years before, Riley Hope Nole had gone missing. Her parents, Joe and Mary Nole had come home and found the house empty except for their dog Annie, a mutt they’d adopted, who had defecated all over the house and was almost catatonic when they found her hiding behind the Christmas tree.

The parents claimed they had left for work, leaving Riley in the care of their baby-sitter, a thirty-something female named Jane, who Mrs. Nole had met at the gym and who, the parents said, “loved Riley like her own.” Jane Jones—the name the Noles’ knew her by—turned up on no voting lists, in no phone books, no public records of any kind, not even on the membership list of the health club. Joe and Mary had left their child in the care of a ‘non-person’, and since they paid her under the table, there were no Social Security or tax traces to follow.

Lt. Marks’ superiors had suspected that the parents were involved in the case of the missing child. So, Don Marks had interviewed, vetted, investigated and hounded Joe and Mary Nole for months. They became the scourge of central North Carolina. Everyone believed they had somehow killed their only child. But there was no physical evidence and no motive, so, after endless weeks of media coverage, the case had become cold and the parents—damaged greatly—had returned to whatever ‘normal life’ might be after losing a child.

Don Marks remembered the last question he ever asked them out of thousands of questions. He was sitting in their home. The Christmas tree—almost bare of needles--was still up well into March. He noticed a tiny crèche on the mantelpiece of their simple house. Joseph was dressed in brown and had a brown scarf on his head. Mary was dressed in white with a blue cloak. He didn’t even know why he noticed that, but the house seemed so empty, even with unopened presents beneath the unlit tree, that he noticed the two little figures around a tiny manger.

“I need to ask you one more time,” Lt. Marks said, still staring at the crèche, “is there any reason I shouldn’t believe you had something to do with your daughter’s disappearance?”

Joe Nole, smiled sadly and said softly, “do you have children, Lieutenant?” Mary was holding a small dog. She had told him, as she had a dozen times before, that Annie missed Riley most of all.

Marks nodded. He had a baby son, he told them, and a daughter, just the age of Riley. Marcia and Riley might have been born the same week in the same hospital for all he knew.

Joe motioned toward the gifts unopened. “Would you have done this for your child if you meant her harm?”

Lt. Marks sat for a long time in the chair across from the couch where Riley’s parents were. For all his training and for his police skepticism, he had no answer to the brightly wrapped presents, three months late.

Lt. Marks himself had never suspected them. And he had spent every free moment since the case was officially closed trying to track down a health club member, baby-sitter named Jane Jones—to no avail. He turned up a similar case in Roanoke, Virginia—a baby-sitter named Sarah Ann Wilson, who had a criminal record and a hospital record of losing 4 children to miscarriage, had taken a young girl. But police were called to a fast food restaurant near the North Carolina border that very night because the girl had started screaming and running to patrons. By the time the squad car arrived, Sarah Ann Wilson was gone, never to be heard of again.
As Christmas drew near, Don Mark’s thoughts turned to the Nole family and little Riley, wherever she was, and to his own children, their growing excitement about the presents that would be under the tree. He knew hundreds of copy shop photos of Riley were going up all over the state, put up by friends and relatives of Joe and Mary Nole. Christmas caused them to spring into action, searching for their lost daughter. So Lt. Marks booted up his computer, as he had so many times before, and started searches—“Sarah Ann Jones”, “Jane Wilson”, “Ann Wilson”…every configuration he could imagine—knowing it would lead to naught.


Riley never went anywhere without Aunt Jane or Uncle Luke. One of them was always home with her. They kept Sarah Ann isolated from the world. Riley thought she should be in school, but whenever she asked, Aunt Jane told her she was too smart for school. Aunt Jane did read to her every night and tried to teach her numbers from time to time. But Riley thought there must be something more.

One day, about a week before that unusual snow, Aunt Jane had taken Sarah on a ride in the car—a special treat. A few blocks from the house, Riley had noticed a display in front of a church. There was the statue of a man, dressed in a brown robe, and another statue of a woman all in white with a blue cape around her. Both the statues were leaning toward a baby in some strange bed.

“Who is that?” Riley/Sarah asked.

Aunt Jane sniffed and stared at her for a minute. “That’s called a crèche, it’s Mary and Joseph and their baby.”

Riley had never heard that word or that story—at least not since her father and mother went to prison, or heaven, and she had been living with Aunt Jane. But as they drove on, Riley began to remember. Something like that had been in her house when she lived with her mommy and daddy. A man dressed in brown, a woman in white with a blue cloth around her shoulders, a little baby. She tried with all her heart to remember…but she couldn’t, not all of it, only flashes—a crèche (such a funny word) somewhere up high, lights, a mommy and daddy, a dog licking her face, bright boxes around a tree. But she was Riley from Raleigh then and everything was different now.


There was Christmas with Aunt Jane—a tiny artificial tree on a table, some lights in the window, a real meal at the table and a teddy bear wrapped in colorful paper for Sarah. Uncle Luke gave her some candy—something red and white striped, since Sarah knew her colors and there was brown liquid in the glasses that Aunt Jane and Uncle Luke were drinking. It was very nice, Sarah had thought…not ‘thought’ so much as simply ‘felt’ what she experienced as ‘safe’—but it didn’t last.

Aunt Jane and Uncle Luke were yelling at each other and Sarah grabbed her teddy bear, who she had named ‘Annie”, and ran to the hall closet to shut herself inside. In the dark, she covered her ears with her hands and shut her eyes as tight as she could—she’d done this before and knew how to do it—but the yelling got louder and she heard something break and for some reason she remembered the man in brown and the woman in white and blue. She struggled with the closet door knob and the front door, then, holding ‘Annie’ under her arm, she ran down the two fights of steps and out into the chill night. She thought she remembered which way to go. If she could only get to those people—that man in brown and woman in white and blue—then the yelling would stop and the fear would go away and something else would be true. Jane and Luke didn’t even notice she was gone until Jane was pressing a wet dishtowel against her eye and Luke was picking up the broken plates from the floor.

Suddenly it began to snow. Sarah didn’t know what snow felt like on your face, your eyelids, your tongue. She stopped running about a block from the place where the man and woman were waiting. She began spinning—wearing only jeans and a thin shirt in the cold. She was holding her face up to the sky, feeling the snow, tasting it, spinning and spinning out beyond the sidewalk into the street….


Lt. Don Marks’ cell phone was ringing in the middle of dessert at his Christmas dinner with his family—his wife and two children, his brother-in-law, his father and mother and a distant cousin who happened to be in town. He considered another bite of apple pie but answered his phone instead.

“Lt. Marks?”


“John Matthews from the Charlotte Police Department,” the voice said. “Sorry to interrupt your holiday, but I think you’d want to know about this….”

“What?” Lt. Marks asked.

“We have a young girl in hospital here, grazed by a car but doing fine. She didn’t have on a coat and we found a toy bear near her. No one has come to claim her and she keeps saying, ‘I’m Riley and I live in Raleigh’. She looks like the girl on the posters. I knew you’d want to know.”

Don Marks—a tough, world-weary cop, was suddenly weeping—tears and surprise and joy from deep inside himself. His wife was beside him now, a look of love and concern on her face. Don handed her the phone and said, between sobs, “get the details….And I have to go now….” But before he left he hugged his children so tightly they squealed.


When Sarah woke up, the sun was shining through the window of the hospital room. It was the day after Christmas, though Sarah didn’t think of that. She pulled her bear close before she looked around. A woman in white was standing by her bed—where other women in white had stood—with a man dressed in brown. Mary Nole volunteered to do the Christmas shift at the hospital in Raleigh where she worked and Joe, her husband, delivered for UPS on Christmas day. Neither of them wanted to be home without their daughter in an empty, painful, haunted house and neither had bothered to change clothes once they heard from Lt. Marks.

In the background, near the door, was a man in a suit who was standing very still. He was as big as Uncle Luke, but not as scary. He seemed to be wiping tears from his face.

“Who’s that man?” Sarah asked. “Is he okay?”

“That’s a policeman,” her mother said. “His name is Detective Marks. He’s been looking for you for a long time. He’s very happy. That’s why he’s crying.”

“Are you my mommy?” Sarah asked.

“Oh, yes, my love, I am,” Mary answered.

Sarah seemed calm beyond belief. “And you,” she asked the man, “are you my daddy?”

Joseph Nole simply bent over his daughter to hold her.

When he pulled away at last, Riley said, “I’ve seen you on TV. ‘What can Brown do for you?’

“Anything,” he told her. “Anything….”
“Do we still have a dog? Was Annie her name?” Riley asked.

“Oh yes,” Joseph and Mary said together, looking at each other as they did. “And she misses you so,” Riley’s mother said. “We’ll see her soon. She’ll be so happy.” And Riley smiled.

“I named my bear ‘Annie’,” she said, holding the Teddy up for all to see. Lt. Marks came over to the bed to admire the stuffed animal.

Then she asked, “Is this heaven?”

Blog Archive

About Me

some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.