Wednesday, January 31, 2018

I won't even write about the State of the Union speech

No, I won't.

But I will tell you this: I've not been so afraid since the Cuban Missile crisis.

So, I found this old post about that day and Woodrow Wilson and Diane Sluss and Gwen Roberts.

It's a lovey post. Hope you enjoy it.

Monday, August 17, 2015

I kissed Diane Sluss

In this very vivid dream I had last night, I kissed Diane Sluss.

As soon as the kiss happened, I drew back and said, 'that wasn't a good thing....'

First of all, who is Diane Sluss (and, yes, that was her name). I went to Junior High and High School with her. She was from the very top of Jenkinjones Mountain. Another few feet and she would have gone to school in Virginia instead of West Virginia. She was very smart, so I was in class with her a lot. She was extremely outgoing and funny, so I liked to be around her. But she lived a long school bus ride from me in Junior High and I wasn't 'into girls' in Junior High--in fact, they scared me silly...except for Diane, who was my friend. And there was this: she was the greatest 'listener' I knew in that 6 years of my life. The workshop I help lead is mostly about 'listening'--and Diane, more than most everyone I've ever known--could get her 'listenings' our of the way and simply be 'present' to whatever I was saying. Rare, indeed.

When we went to high school in Gary, she was the first person to get on the school bus that came from Jenkinjones through Conklintown and O'Toole (yes, where I grew up places were named stuff like that!) and then to Anawalt, where I got on, then on to Spencer's Curve and Pageton, which was, as I remember, the last place Woodrow stopped. (Oh, by the way, the bus driver's name was, God help me, Woodrow Wilson, brother of a Methodist minister in Pageton and an all around good-guy. A couple of his nephews got on the bus in Pageton and he treated them just like the rest of us--fair and consistently. (I can't imagine driving High School Students was the best job in the world, but he did it with grace and even flair.)

{Here's an example of Woodrow's flair. He had to pull over the bus near a monument to 6 white men killed by Indians in Black Wolf--there was no drama to the place he pulled over, it's just that in southern West Virginia, there aren't a lot a places along the roads to pull over a school bus. He pulled over to read us the 'emergency school bus schedule'. It was the day that the Navy was stopping Russian ships taking missiles to Cuba and McDowell County had plans to evacuate us from school sine the largest coal processing plant in the world was 4 miles from Gary High School and thought to be on the Russian ICBM list of targets. He was half-way through reading the paper he'd been given to read when Gwen Roberts freaked out.

She ran down the aisle and tried to get off the bus. She was screaming stuff like: "We're going to die!" and "Let me off this bus!!" and "Oh Lordy, Lordy!"...people in southern West Virginia said that last one a lot.

Woodrow dropped the sheet of paper and wrapped Gwen in his arms. He spoke softly to her and rubbed her back until she calmed down. Masterful, he was, dealing with her.}

I know how masterful he was because I was sitting in the seat right behind his driver's seat with Diane Sluss. For three years Diane and I sat in the front seat behind Woodrow as he drove down to Gary in the morning and back in the afternoon. Everyday for three years. People on the bus knew better than to try to take that seat. The way down was no problem, Diane was first on the bus every morning. On the way back people just knew--that's Diane's and Jimmy's seat (Lord yes, I was Jimmy in high school until I decided to be 'J. Gordon' my senior year.)

I'd have to think long and hard about how many hours Diane and I spent sitting next to each other, talking over those years. She was a large girl, but not fat, and had a beautiful face and wondrous hair. It's not that I wasn't, at some point, attracted to her--she was shapely and attractive--it was that she was my first long time 'friend' who was a girl. We talked about everything--our heartbreaks, our loves, current affairs, movies and tv, political stuff (during our three year conversation I moved from being a Goldwater Republican, like my father, to being a left-wing Democrat and she talked me through that transition).

Truth be known, when we graduated and she disappeared from my life, I missed her not enough.

Diane gave me one of the greatest gifts anyone ever could--the sure and certain knowledge that I could have intimate friends who were female with none of the complications that men and women have between intimate friends and intimacy.

What a gift! And it has served me well over the decades since. Many of the closest friends I've had in my life have been women. And I value them mightily.

So, in my dream, kissing Diane on the bus...It was not a good thing, it was a mistake, it would have robbed both of us of one of the abiding relationships that got us through those awful years from 15 to 18.

Ride on Diane. I won't ruin the gift we gave each other.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Easy choice....

So, the next to last day in January.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018.

That's what today is.

Except it's also the day President He-Who-Will-Not-Be-Named's first State of the Union Address.

I have a choice. I can go to bed early and read or I can watch the address.

In other words, I can  have a good night's sleep or toss and turn angry and frustrated.

Easy choice....

(By the way, Kate Middleton, Prince William's wife, donated 8 inches of her hair to a non-profit that makes wigs for kids undergoing chemo therapy. Hey, Melania and Ivanka--since you're our 'royal family' want to follow suit?

I won't hold my breath but I do want to move to England.)

Sunday, January 28, 2018

"deep breath, deep breath" revisited

I told the congregation at St. Andrew's. Northford today about the argument I had on Tuesday I wrote about in 'deep breath, deep breath'.

It's astonishing to me that such an upsetting event as fighting over supernatural events vs. ordinary moments as the prompters of faith could give me a whole sermon.

What I notice every time I preach about "being a Christian" having more to do with how we 'be' in the world and the way we live as opposed to 'what we believe' (and I talk about that quite a bit!) I always get several people telling me 'thank you' afterward and some of them getting a bit emotional and unable to say much more. They are just moved that someone gave them permission to be Christians in their living instead of their 'believing'.

I think 'believing' is something many folks have trouble with.

I remember in seminary, at my field work church--Christ Church, Capitol Hill in DC--leading a discussion on the Nicene Creed. This was before the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, so the Creed began with "I believe" rather than "We believe".

I told the dozen or so people that I was going to read the Creed and when they heard something they weren't sure about to raise their hand.

"I believe in God,," I said and half the people raised their hands!

Now these were card-carrying, every Sunday Episcopalians--faithful and devoted to the church. These weren't agnostics or atheists. But no one had ever asked them what they 'believed'.

Now, most of the people in that room worked in someway in the federal government. They believed in trying to make America the best it could be. They cared about folks who had less power and less prosperity than they did. They were some of the best people I've known.

But this 'belief' thing was a problem for them.

I truly am committed to a church that tells people 'being a Christian' has much more to do about how we behave in the world than the stuff we 'believe'. Some of the people I know who live faithful, 'Christian' lives wouldn't call themselves Christians. But I'm convinced God would.

"Belief" as a measure of who is Christian and who isn't is highly overrated. Let me see if you live a life the way Jesus taught us to and I'll tell you--whether you know it or not--whether you're a Christian.

THAT I believe and believe fair well....

(Billy Graham's granddaughter came out to condemn all the Evangelical 'Christians' who support Donald Trump in spite of how he violates most of their 'family values'. Bless her. She 'gets it'.)

So, I really am going to thank they guy I yelled at for showing me that I can find God even in a stupid argument....

Thursday, January 25, 2018

my capa negra

I have a funeral and burial tomorrow of a man 7 years younger than me who I thought a lot of. He was a large scale farmer, kind to immigrant workers, gave lots of food away and had a life of sorrow--losing his son to a motorcycle accident and having to raise his grandson his daughter didn't care for.

I'm going to wear my capa negra to the graveside. A capa negra is a 'black cape', much like a vampire or Zorro would wear, but with a hood. It is wool and weighs 10 pounds and is very warm.

I did a funeral for a Waterbury Police Officer slain in the line of duty years ago. It was February, I think, and brutally cold. Well over a thousand police from around the New England area and beyond showed up. We set up tv screens and loud speakers on the Green for the overflow. He had three small children and it was a painful service. Thankfully, a former Rector who had known him as a boy was the preacher.

It took so long to get all the police folks situated at the graveside that I was frozen and caught pneumonia. Out for two weeks. Could hardly move, much less do anything. Truly 'laid up'.

The women's group at the church were so sorry for me they bought me a capa negra so that wouldn't happen again.

My name is embroidered inside in red script.

I seldom wear it because it is so ostentatious. But tomorrow will be cold and I wear so many layers in the cold weather that my winter coat has trouble covering them all.

It will be very dramatic.

A vampire, Zorro, a priest by a grave.


Tuesday, January 23, 2018

In Momento Mori

Ursula Le Guin died today. She was my favorite writer, along with Kurt Vonnegut. Her 'Earthsea' trilogy are 3 of my favorite 10 books of all time and she probably has another two or three on that short list. "Left Hand of Darkness" for one.

And I usually don't much like science fiction, though I am a sucker for fantasy (Tolkien, the "Thrones" books, stuff like that). She did both.

Her novel about a planet where there is no 'gender'--or where 'gender' is fluid through your life-time--able to be father and mother both--really revolutionized the way I look at gender. Astonishing.

She hasn't written for a good time, she was 88 after all.

I'll go to the library soon and get some of her books. I need to pay homage to her in some way.

Rest in peace, sweet writer, love of mine.

deep breath, deep breath....

I had a conversation today with someone who believes The Virgin Mary shows up on blank walls, statues cry, Jesus can be seen in the clouds and grilled cheese sandwiches.

Well, calling it a 'conversation' isn't accurate. I yelled and then he yelled and we both yelled some more. Hardly a constructive conversation.

That he's an Episcopal priest made me a little crazy. As wrong as I may be, I expect Episcopal priests to be more grounded than he appears to me.

It all started when I said that the Cluster Lenten book study was on a book called, "How Little Can I Believe and Still Be a Christian".

He called that something I'd never heard. It was something like Protestant 'reductionism', though that's probably not right. What he meant was, I think (since I was so crazed and confused it's hard to know) that Protestants tend to shrink the things people need to believe since Luther's theses were about what the Vatican asked people to believe that wasn't necessary. Something like that.

Another person in the room, who I refer to 'the most maddeningly reasonable person I know', since he can always see both sides of an argument, tried to mediate but I didn't want 'reasonableness' about views I find crazy and totally unreasonable.

See, I believe we find God all around us all the time. But not in magical appearances but in the ordinary, common, everyday moments of life. I don't need blood dropping from the hands of a Jesus statue to 'believe'--I need to see someone caring in compassion for a bleeding human being. There's God in our midst.

I see God in a smile from a stranger, in a kind word to someone bagging your groceries, in a sudden silence, in two people just being 'present' to each other, in the softness of the rain and the beauty of a robin.

I don't need other-worldly realities to believe.

I believe in God when I see someone hope against hopelessness, long for justice, work for equality, speak out against cruelty, stand up to a someone bullying another, offering a hand up to someone who has fallen.

That's the stuff I believe in, not miracles. I believe in the ordinariness of God.

The conversation disturbed me--but at least it made me write this down so I remember what I believe and where God 'shows up' moment to moment....

So, I guess I should thank him for what outraged me.

(Maybe something 'holy' in thanking him for that....)

Friday, January 19, 2018

Give me the gun

I do not believe in capital punishment. Not at all.

But in the case of David and Louise Turpin and their 13 half-starved, shackled children, give me the gun and I'll do the deed.

How could anyone ever, ever, ever, do that to children--much less their own children?

I can hardly stand to hear about the results and probable life-long outcomes for those 13 (who has 13 children, for goodness sake?) children.

Such madness is incomprehensible.

And, guess what, they are originally from West Virginia. Just like Charlie Manson. Just like me.

One more Christmas story in January

        How the
girls saved
                                                Bern's Christmas gift
                                    from Jim

                              (with much love)


        It was a dark and stormy night...well, actually, it was Christmas Eve in Baltimore, Maryland, United States of America, Planet Earth and it was dark, but not stormy—and the girls were so excited about Christmas and their cruise the day after that they knew they'd never sleep. They tried to be quiet so their parents wouldn't come into the room and tell them to go to sleep...but staying quiet when they were so excited was hard.
        The girls lived on Toone Street in a townhouse across from a dog park and a soccer field in the part of Baltimore known as Canton, just off I-95, next to Fells Point and only minutes from downtown. The girls names were Emma, Morgan and Tegan. Emma and Morgan were twins, though not nearly 'identical' since Emma has her mother's black hair and Morgan has her father's brown hair and Emma is almost a head taller. They are eight years old, which is a great age because they can read and write and never have to be bored. The third girl is Tegan and she is five, also a good age, because she is learning to read and write and will, once she masters those two things, never have to be bored either. Reading and writing are like that—cures for boredom.
        Plus, they all three wear glasses.
        That's no surprise since their mother and father and all four of their grandparents have terrible eyes and need glasses or contact lenses to see. Being able to 'see' is genetic, though I'm not sure what that means.
        But what the girls lawyer parents did not know was this: the glasses they got were magic glasses that gave the girls secret wonder powers no one knew about except the three of them and their grandmother, mother of their father (more about how she knew later.) They dared not tell their lawyer parents lest they become 'concerned'--a word the girls knew involved, in some way, intervention, like getting them new glasses that had no powers.
        Here are the powers they had: Tegan could make things fly; Morgan could turn into any animal; and Emma could sing things into being and sing and make people unable to see what was in front of them to see.
        They practiced their powers in private, with each other. Tegan would make their stuffed animals fly around the room. Morgan would turn into a cat or a polar bear or a lizard and the other two would play with Morgan, the animal. And Emma would sing about “she'll be comin' 'round the mountain when she comes” and six white horses would be in their room. Emma would take her glasses off and the horses would disappear, but it was fun for a moment or two to have six white horses in their shared bed-room.
        Even the animals Morgan could turn into had glasses on, so if Tegan and Emma heard their mom or dad coming down the hall, they'd jerk the glasses off the polar bear and Morgan would be there instead.
        It was hard keeping their super-powers secret because they loved to play around with them. Morgan would become a lobster and hide in the closet while Tegan made the things Emma sang into being fly around the room. Once Emma was singing “Rudolph, the red nosed reindeer,” who could fly anyway, so Tegan made Emma fly as well. The reindeer and Emma were soaring around the room when Josh, their father, opened the door. Tegan and Emma took off their glasses and Rudolph disappeared but Emma fell four feet onto the floor.
        Josh seemed not to notice what had been going on (parents are really kind of dim sometimes) and all he said was, “where's Morgan?”
        Emma crawled across the floor, though falling had hurt her a bit, into the closet and tore the magic glasses from the lobster's face. Morgan suddenly was back and Josh seemed confused (which is what parents are much of the time that we are kids....)
        Once when Cathy, the girls' mother was with their dog, Laura, in the dog park across the street, the girls were watching from the living room window. Morgan turned herself into a Puli, like the dog her dad's parents have, and went to run with the dogs in the park. Tegan, for just a moment, because she wanted to see it happen, made all the dogs fly a little, then took off her glasses. Emma sang a little of “How much is that doggie in the window?” and all the dogs in the park were suddenly outside the living room window until she pulled her glasses off. None of the adults in the dog park noticed any of that—which is the way 'adults' are, sadly.
        There were lots of other adventures the girls had with their magic powers. Like the time Tegan made her teacher fly a bit and Morgan turned into a turtle and walked around her classroom and Emma sang “Hey, diddle, diddle” and made a cat with a fiddle and a cow show up for a moment near the altar of the Episcopal Cathedral in Baltimore where they went to church. She took her glasses off really fast and no one seemed to notice but one member of the choir who left for a while to recover from what she knew was a hallucination.
        But this story is about how the girls, with their oh-so-secret powers saved Christmas in 2014. So, let's go back to Christmas Eve on Toone Street, near midnight with three super-power girls who couldn't get to sleep.
        What you don't know, unless I tell you, is that Santa was getting sleepy and a little sloppy by the time he got to Baltimore plus someone was trying to stop Christmas, more about that later too. Christmas Eve had started a lot earlier out over Asia and Africa and Europe. Since Baltimore is in the Eastern Time Zone of the United States all that was left in his journey to bring gifts to children was North and South America and a few islands in the Pacific Ocean. But he'd been at it for a long time for an old elf and there was another problem you'll learn later and he flew a little too low into Baltimore and his sleigh hit the winking eye man who stands for some beer just off I-95 and careened, out of control and landed on the soccer field beyond the dog park in Canton, just across from where the girls lived.
        Emma, Morgan and Tegan heard the crash and ran downstairs to look out the the living room window.
        “Oh no,” Morgan said, there are still people walking around, even though it is late. What if they see Santa and his sleigh? They'll call 911 and Christmas will be over.”
        So Emma sang a lullaby that made anyone near the crash sight not see anything. Everything was normal for people walking by.
        “We have to do something,” Morgan said, putting on her glasses and changing into a red-tailed hawk and flying out the window Emma opened to see what was going on.
        Tegan made both Emma and her able to fly and they flew out the window after Morgan, the hawk, to check on the crash site.
        Well, it was a mess: the sleigh was broken up and several of the reindeer were hurt and presents were all over the soccer field. Santa was unconscious. What a mess.
        Emma sang, “wake up, wake up, you sleepy head” and Santa came out of his knock-out state. They checked the reindeer and it became clear than Rudolph was too injured to fly. Emma sang, “I'll be home for Christmas” while touching Rudolph and he went back to the North Pole where Mrs. Claus and the elves nursed him back to health after a few days.
        “But what will I do?” Santa said to the girls, “all the presents for North and South America are scattered all over this field and I'm one reindeer short for the rest of the trip? Plus, my sleigh is broken”
        “Never mind,” Emma told him, Tegan can gather the presents really quickly and Morgan can turn into a reindeer and help pull the sleigh.”
        So Tegan made all the presents scattered over the soccer field fly back to Santa's bag in a jiffy. And Morgan first turned into a beaver and repaired the sleigh with mud and then turned into a reindeer and joined the other reindeers.
        “Everything will be alright,” Emma told Santa.
        “Don't worry,” Tegan said, “we're here to help you.”
        “But there's one more thing you don't know about,” Santa told them, “their is an evil witch who is trying to ruin Christmas. I've avoided her most of the time so far, but without Rudolph and as fragile as my sleigh is now, she might have enough power to stop me right here and all the children in North and South America won't get their presents.”
        The girls were suddenly confused. They were so young and yet Christmas depended on them. Morgan said, “I wish we could talk to grandma, she'd know what to do.”
        Their father's mother was the only person who knew about their powers because she came into the dining room at some point over the Thanksgiving holiday and saw Bela and Laura, the two dogs, flying around. Tegan took off her glasses and both dogs hit the floor. But then, Bern, their grandma, made the girls tell about their powers. She promised never to tell anyone else, not even their grandpa, who she told everything. So Morgan turned into a rabbit and Emma sang Bobby Shaftoe into being before they both took off their glasses. Their grandma clapped and laughed at what powers her granddaughters had. And they all joined hands to swear to keep the secrete.
        Santa asked, “does your grandma have a phone?”
        The girls told him the number and he took out his smart phone and dialed it and Bern answered.
        “Are you the grandmother of Morgan, Emma and Tegan?” he asked.
        “Of course,” she said, “who are you?”
        “Well, this is Santa Claus,” he told her, knowing most adults didn't believe in him anymore.
        Santa!,” Bern said, very excited, “so you are REAL!”
        “Of course I'm real,” he told her, “for those who believe.”
        “Oh, Santa,” Bern told him, “I believe....I believe....”
        “Then you need to talk to....”, Santa said.
        Emma grabbed the phone. “There's a witch whose trying to stop Christmas and Rudolph got hurt and Morgan had to fix the sleigh....”
        Morgan, as Rudolph pushed her big deer head in front of Emma and said (she could talk when she turned into an animal, though her voice took on a bit of the creature she was, so she sounded much like a deer) “Grandma, should we try to stop the witch? Emma could sing her here....”
        “That might work,” her grandma said, “but please, all of you be careful.”
        “We will,” Emma and Morgan said together, “and Merry Christmas...tell Granpa too.”
        “I will,” their grandma said, “but he's sound asleep, the phone didn't wake him up.”
        So Emma sang a song about the Witch who wanted to kill Christmas and, sure enough, there she was, on the soccer field, flaming and angry and vicious. But Morgan turned from Rudolph into a T-Rex and ate the witch up, real quick.
        Santa was a little nervous about the dinosaur (as were Tegan and Emma) so Morgan was back as herself.
        “She's gone,” Morgan said, “now what do we do?”
        “It's Christmas,” Santa said, “and we have lots of children to give presents to. Morgan, you need to be a reindeer again. Tegan, you need to help the sleigh fly. And Emma, you have to sing “Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer” whenever we encounter fog or clouds so I can see. Are you girls up to that?”
        They all made sure their magic glasses were firmly in place and did exactly as Santa asked. And off they went, Emma and Tegan in the sleigh, Morgan as a flying reindeer, to deliver the presents to all the girls and boys from Boston to Bogata, from Columbus to Columbia, from Chicago to Chile. From San Francisco to San Juan, from Anchorage to Argentina.
        What a long night for Santa and the girls, but when all the gifts are delivered, Emma hugged Tegan and the reindeer, Morgan and sang “Home again, Home again, jiggidy, jig,” as she took the glasses off the reindeer Morgan, and the girls are all in their room again and it was 7 in the morning in Baltimore. They should have been exhausted, but saving Christmas is something that gives you a lot of energy, so when they heard their parents, Josh and Cathy, outside their room, they ran out to meet them and all five of them went up to the top floor of the townhouse to open presents.
        Christmas was wonderful. They got so many great gifts and then they talked to their mother's parents, who lived in Baltimore, and their father's parents in Connecticut about how wondrous and perfect it all was. And the next day they would go on a cruise with their mom's parents. How great it was to be Morgan and Emma and Tegan!
        When they talked to their Grandma Bern, she whispered to them, “how did things turn out with Santa?”
        And they all told her what they had done to save Christmas and she was so proud of her three granddaughters. So proud and happy about how they had saved Christmas. And she told them each one and swore she'd never tell anyone (even their parents) about their glasses and how they gave them powers. Not ever. And she never did.
        And the girls had many more adventures with their powers: Tegan making things fly; Morgan, turning into any animal; Emma, singing things into being and keeping people from seeing what was in front of them.
        Many adventures they had, for years and years.
        But on Christmas, 2014, after the presents from Santa were opened, Cathy, their mother, asked them what they wanted to eat for breakfast.
        Tegan said, “pancakes!”
        Emma said, “sausage!”
        And Morgan said, “I'm not hungry at all.”
        Cathy and Josh were astonished by that, but they didn't know that Morgan had eaten the Witch who wanted to destroy Christmas. She wouldn't be hungry for a few days though she'd eat to make her parents happy.
        She'd do that because the three of them (besides having such wonderful powers) were the three best girls in the the world, ever....Really.


Thursday, January 18, 2018

Another Christmas story only a few read

Bern makes me something for Christmas (a painting, a table shaped like West Virginia--hard to make!, a hat shaped like our Puli. I write her stuff. Here's one I wrote a few years ago.
Bo's Gift
Mattie knew that Paul was having heavy days. He had always been prone to brooding but it had gotten worse once Bo Freeman came home and even worse since the job interview at St. Martin's down in the capitol city. Initially, Paul had been so excited about the possibility of a new position. He had come home after the initial interview telling her what a good chance he thought he had, how he believed he had impressed the committee, how he could already imagine himself Rector of a thriving parish in a real city.
Mattie listened joyfully, so pleased at Paul's pleasure. But the moment fell apart when he said, “at last we can get out of this two-bit town.” Mattie made sure not to react, but it dawned on Paul what he had said and the thrill went out of him. He talked a bit more, with much less enthusiasm and Mattie knew he had been struck by guilt for what he said. After all, it was 'her' two-bit town, not his.
Mattie had grown up in Deep Valley, as had her parents before her. Paul was from the capitol, a big-city boy as things went in that small New England state. She imagined he didn't even know where Deep Valley was until he was hired to be the priest at St. Luke's straight out of seminary. Though, in all the years, he never said so, she knew he had seen it as a brief stop, a few years before moving on to bigger and bigger churches, perhaps even to be elected bishop some day, like his father had been. But, as Mattie's mother used to say whenever plans were thwarted, “considerations got in the way”.
In fact, Mattie was the consideration that came between Paul and his ambitions. She had always told him she would go wherever he needed to go, but either he hadn't believed her or knew it would grieve her to leave the little town while her aging parents still lived. So, in the first decade or so, he patiently waited, putting his longings for a more prestigious parish on hold. First he waited until Bo finally had to go to the state hospital 50 miles north. Then he waited for Mattie to get pregnant, discovering through that wait that it was his fault she didn't conceive. Finally, he waited for her parents to pass on—first her father and then, five years later, her mother. Before he knew it he had been at. St. Luke's , Deep Valley for nearly 25 years. And, Mattie knew he had already waited too long.
Then, like a unsuspected marvel, Bo Freeman came home and Paul had to wait until the new realities of that homecoming settled down. But now, finally accustomed to having Bo be the child they never had, he felt free to apply for positions in larger places. But by that time he was already over 50 and the sad truth was that churches were always looking for younger priests rather than mature ones. The final interview at St. Martin's had not gone well—had gone horrendously bad, in fact, and hope was lost. Paul told Mattie that in so many words when he got back late at night. She had waited up for him—praying as she prayed...more like thinking hopeful thoughts...that the news would be good. That, his waiting finally over, Paul could pursue his dreams.
But he was morose when he arrived. His eyes were red and swollen and she pictured him in her mind, weeping as he drove home. He said very little, sentence fragments really...”too long in a small parish”...”never showed ambition”...”younger, more exciting candidates”...”our family situation”...”I'm not my father”...”looking for someone who could stay longer....”
Mattie was holding his hands in hers on the kitchen table where they often sat and talked into the night. She was so deeply, profoundly sorry for him, distressed to see him so deflated, longing to be able to give comfort, when those three little words jumped out of the jumble of his self-accusations: “our family situation”. Mattie could imagine it all, the closed door conversations of the vestry at St. Martin's, those doctors and lawyers and university professors and business men and women who made decisions for the largest church in the diocese. Their city ways, their busy lives, their attention to the 'image' of St. Martin's--”Fr. Harden is a good man, a solid priest, and we know how successful his father was here. It might just work, but he is older than we'd hoped for and, well, the family situation....”
They would have never said it out loud, too conscious of political correctness, but they would have thought it and it would have weighed heavy on their minds. How could a priest be Rector of our St. Martin's whose only child was a retarded adult that didn't really belong to he or his wife. No they would have never said it out loud, but Mattie was sure Paul had read between the lines. And though Paul loved her too much to ever hurt her with the idea, Mattie knew it must be true. How hadn't either of them anticipated it? Had they simply become blind to how 'things must look' to strangers? Not that it was the only reason, Paul had been passed over, but it would have entered in. Somehow it was Bo Freeman's fault that Paul was not moving on to receive the much delayed reward for all his loving patience. Mattie's eyes clouded with tears. She thought her heart might break. In the end she was what had kept Paul waiting, her devotion to her parents, her love of Deep Valley, and now, finally her 30 year old promise to 'look after Bo....”
Bo Freeman had been the reason for the first conversation Paul and Mattie ever had, that and church music. Mattie had been the organist at St. Luke's for two years before Fr. Harden arrived. She made an appointment and went in to play for him two days after his furniture had arrived at the Rectory so he could decide if he wanted to keep her on the staff. He stood smiling as she played through a few hymns and a Bach prelude. He started smiling as soon as she hit the first notes and asked her how St. Luke's, such a small church, afforded her.
“Oh,” Mattie said, not so much flattered as intrigued at the 'light up the night' smile of the seemingly somber and serious young priest, “I teach at the elementary school and live with my parents, so I don't expect to get rich on St. Luke's ....”
“Well, you certainly won't,” Paul said, still smiling.
They talked for a while about music matters—Fr. Barnes before him had left hymn selection up to Mattie, using The Choirmaster's Guide to help her. Paul wanted more imput—but so he would, being young and energetic. Dear Fr. Barnes had been with them for 30 odd years—he'd baptized Mattie—and didn't need to 'put his stamp' on the music. That was the term Fr. Harden had used. Mattie found it amusing. So, in the end they agreed she would keep playing and Paul promised to try to give her a raise in the next year.
She was about to go, when he said, “If there's anything I can ever do for you, let me know.” And she realized there was. She got off the organ bench and they sat together in a pew while she tried to explain about Bo Freeman and the promise she had made.
“Sally Freeman and I grew up together. We were inseparable from first grade on,” she told him. “People referred as 'S & M', like the shoe store in the mall. We were planning to go to college together, room together and come back to teach school here in Deep Valley. But none of that happened....”
She went on to explain that during the summer of their Senior year at the regional high school, Sally met a 'big city boy' and he got her pregnant and disappeared. She stopped and apologized, remembering suddenly that Paul Harden was a 'big city boy'. He waved away her apology and she continued.
“It all fell apart, Sally's hopes and dreams,” Mattie told him, “plus, her parents—very strict people—threw her out. She lives in the little apartment above my parents' grocery store with Bo.”
Paul was already familiar with “Holmes' Market”, the only grocery store in town. It was small but well stocked and saved a drive out to the Big Y on the Interstate.
“Then Bo was born,” Mattie went on. “It was clear from the beginning that something was very wrong with him. He's not Downs Syndrome, but it is in that genus of conditions....”
Paul missed the next sentence or two since he was so shocked to find a young women, a product of the small town of Deep Valley, who used the word 'genus' so casually. He knew she was a remarkable musician from hearing her play, but now she was getting interesting.
What came out in the next five minutes was that Sally (the S in the 'S & M' girls—although Paul repented thinking momentarily of the other SM, it obvious hadn't occurred to Mattie) had moved heaven and earth to keep Bo with her. She worked in Mattie's parents store, offered art classes at the local library (“I was the musician and Sally was the artist,” Mattie said.) Paul noticed that she was neither bragging or embarrassed about saying musician and artist. He was not used to such straight forward, confident talking. He had spent his life among those who thrived on irony and sarcasm and figures of speech. People who didn't offer themselves unprotected to the world. Even his father, the popular and thriving Rector of St. Martin's in Capitol City--'sure to be a bishop someday', was the conversation about Paul Harden, Sr.--even his father had never, in all of Paul's life, been so unconcealed as this somewhat lovely young woman was being on their first meeting.
“When I came back from State College,” she continued, “Bo was turning four and the real problems were showing up. He still wore diapers, he didn't speak much and what he said was hard to understand.” She paused, took a breath. “And he was big. A big boy. The last three years, since I've been home, I've helped all I could. And my parents have helped. But then....” Mattie paused, tears rising in her eyes, pain showing in her face, her body slumping in the pew. She was a slight woman who became even smaller for a moment. “Then...,” she continued, voice slightly breaking, “Sally was diagnosed.”
Sally it turned out, had a form of cancer as insidious and irreversible as Bo's condition. She had six months at diagnosis, two months now when Mattie was talking with Paul Harden, her priest, for the first time.
“I promised her,” Mattie said, near sobbing but controlling it enough to talk, “I promised her I would 'look after Bo'. He's a dear child—as innocent and pure as a spring day here in the mountains. And Sally is ready to sign guardianship over to me, but I need some references....I know you don't know me, but a priest's reference would....”
Mattie never finished that sentence because she burst into tears and fell into Paul's arms. He held her, wondering why Seminary hadn't taught him about such things, feeling a vibrant, honest, almost lovely young body against his, hers convulsing in pain, grief, loss. Paul realized he had no idea whatsoever about what to 'do', so he simply held her until the rapids of weeping subsided and she sat up, clearing embarrassed at her out burst, and asked, simply, clearly: “will you write me a letter, Fr. Harden?”
How could he not? Of course he asked her if there were other options for Bo Freeman--”Sally's parents?” “Dead in a car accident when I was a Senior at State College”.
“Siblings?” “She was an only child, like me....” And Paul added in a whisper, “Like me too....”
So he wrote the letter and Matilda Holmes, 25, his age almost to the day, became the legal guardian of Bo Freeman when Sally Freeman died. Paul did the funeral, since Sally's parents had rejected her and their pastor did as well. She was buried in the small graveyard behind the church, a Baptist among generations of Deep Valley Episcopalians. Mattie handled the expenses and the details and then moved into the small apartment above her parents' grocery, so Bo wouldn't have to adjust to a new environment. Every thing Mattie did, from that funeral on, Paul came to understand, was in response to her promise to a dear and deep friendship. A promise not easily made, a promise that had a cost, a promise made in true trust and commitment, a promise that would shape and form, over many years, both Mattie and Paul, and their lives. A promise rooted in the profound depths of love and friendship, a promise that could never be broken—no matter what the fall-out. That was what Matilda ('Mattie') promised to Sally and to Bo. And it was a promise, so unlike the vast multitude of promises of human beings, that would be kept. Cost what it may, mean what it might.
Everything went well—oh, not 'well', but acceptable, for several years. Mattie managed Bo well enough, with her parents' help and the help of others in the little town. Mattie continued to teach, play the organ for St. Luke's and care for Bo. Paul had to admit that Bo was benign enough. Since Mattie was so dedicated to him, Bo came with her to choir practice and church. He was frightening because he was so large and 'different', but the people of St. Luke's accepted him in time. He even grew on Fr. Harden, though Miss Holmes grew on him more. Paul was impressed how Bo would sit by the organ console, leaning against it at choir practice and on Sunday for the two Eucharists. It was awkward and the source of endless gossip, but over the next few years Paul wooed and finally won Mattie. They would be married when Bo was eleven and Mattie and her child born of a promise were going to move into the rectory after the wedding and leave behind the apartment over Holmes' Grocery. Most people agreed, up until then that Mattie's love and devotion could manage the incredible force of nature that was Bo.
Then it happened, a week before the wedding. Just as all the wags and lunch counter philosophers of Deep Valley could have and in fact did predict over the years: Bo, as much as Mattie had sophisticated and tamed and acclimated him to the culture of life in Deep Valley—a culture much more forgiving and accepting than the 'big city' culture that depended on social workers and institutions—did what could have been predicted. Bo set fire to their apartment between the time when Mattie's mother went downstairs to help with the store and the time, only 20 minutes later, but a lifetime in Bo's life, Mattie got home from school, having stayed a few minutes longer to speak with a parent. Bo came home from school—he was in fifth grade though, God knows, he hadn't passed the previous four. “Social Promotion”, they called it back then, in the day, and he turned on the stove after Mattie's mom went downstairs, and it would have been disastrous had Mattie not arrived and put it out with salt, bath towels and great courage born of commitment.
Yet there was no way to keep it from the state social workers. And added to that, Bo had recently hurt a much smaller classmate. Bobby was on the swing and Bo merely meant to give him a push, but Bobby saw him, panicked and fell off the swing. Bo, being 100 pounds heavier tried to pick Bobby up and broke 3 ribs. Fr. Harding had helped soothe over the reaction to that event, but when Bo started the fire, well, the state simply stepped in and Bo went to the hospital in Garden, where he stayed for years and years.
It was in that context that Fr. Harden, having waited patiently for years, married Matilda Holmes.
Time passed, as it always does, like it or not, and it was not until nearly 20 years after Mattie and Paul were married (much to the delight of the people of St. Luke's and the whole village of Deep Valley, loving them both, but loving Mattie more and wondering, some of them, why she would waste herself on such a man—a man without ambition, a man willing to be patient and wait for Matilda Holmes to 'be available'....) At that point in their thoughts, their wonderings would stop. What man wouldn't wait for Matilda? What man with any sense about him wouldn't be patient if patience was what was needed to win such a prize as Mattie? Maybe this 'big city boy' priest knew what he was doing. Maybe he was right to be patient and wait. That's what the people of Deep Valley finally decided—as odd and brooding as Fr. Harden was, if he had the good sense to wait for Mattie, well, how much better could he be?
So their married life began. They were both 30. People talked behind their hands and wondered out loud in the diner and on the street and at the coffee hour at St. Luke's when they would have a child. The widows and mothers of the village looked endlessly at Mattie's waist, but she remained slim almost to a fault, slender in a way most women first admired and then envied.
Matilda's parents wondered too. They waited, as did Paul and Mattie herself. They were patient and waited and when they finally knew—having submitted themselves to intrusive and awful tests—that Paul's sperm count was too low, much too low to induce pregnancy, well, they had waited patiently and then they knew. And they wouldn't be moving soon, Paul wouldn't take a new call because Mattie's parents were growing old and the corner grocery, well stocked and with such variety as it had—was becoming a dinosaur that people fed, from time to time, because it was 'their' dinosaur. But, all in all, the Holmes' Grocery was being laid waste by the 7-ll and the Big Y and a convenience store over on South Street that stayed open later and had a license to sell both beer and wine.
Paul and Mattie shared the aging and death of her parents, shared it equally since they had been truer parents to Paul than his own parents had been. But when both Davis and Alma Holmes were dead and buried, near Sally Freeman, in St. Luke's grave yard, Paul had called his father, now a bishop on the west coast, to ask, tentatively, if there might be some churches in his father's diocese that would be interested in him, Paul Junior.
After an uncomfortable pause and silence, Paul's father said, sadly, Paul thought, “You've waited too long. I'll retire in a few years. I really don't think it would be wise to put your name forward, knowing, as I do, I won't be here to guard you.”
They spoke for a bit longer, but Paul knew, knew fair well, he had disappointed and let down his father by staying so long in Deep Valley, by not being more aggressive or having more initiative, more ambition. Paul's father never understood that his 'staying put' at St. Luke's had to do with waiting for Mattie—someone worth waiting for. Such a thought would have never entered Bishop Paul Harden's ambitious, ironic mind.
That all took place just before Bo Freeman came home. In his years of 'incarceration', as Mattie saw them, at the State Hospital, Bo had learned even more than Mattie had taught him. And a new law decreed that people like Bo, who were able, so far as the state could determine, to live in the community, must do just that.
Mattie had visited Bo faithfully every two weeks for over twenty years. Mattie was, in Paul's mind, one of the few people he'd known who steadfastly kept her word, her promise to Sally to 'watch out' for Bo. She always returned and told Paul all about Bo's progress. She even convinced Paul to go with her two or three times a year and give Bo communion and anoint him for healing.
It was a struggle for Paul at first. He had been glad to share Mattie with Bo in her twice monthly visits, but sharing her and their house with him proved difficult. Bo was well mannered enough, but, at 34 (several years past what the doctors had predicted would be his lifespan) he was large and clumsy and often dropped things and knocked things over. Bo was polite and pleasant and very goodhearted, but he tied them down more than Paul had expected and took so much of Mattie's time and energy. Paul was jealous, he admitted to himself, jealous of the gentle giant who had 'come home' after so many years. The feelings Paul had depressed and disappointed him. It was dangerous, he well knew, to assume he could be as committed as Mattie was to Bo, but he felt guilty nonetheless. The first year was the hardest but the three of them eventually settled into their new life together. Bo called him “Poppy Paul”, having failed to be able to say either 'Father' or 'Harden'. He called Mattie “Matta” and in time Paul would come to use the nickname. Things certainly settled down, but it was another delay, another waiting for Paul. Until they were used to Bo's presence there was no way to look for a new job.
But then, when St. Martin's came open—the place where Paul had grown up and his father had been Rector for so many years. Well, he thought it was FATE calling to him. He no longer dreamed of being a bishop, like his father, but at least, he imagined, he could make his father proud by following in Paul Senior's foot steps. That was why he was so morose and depressed by the rejection. St. Martin's was the domino that knocked down all the others. That was why he became withdrawn and sullen. Mattie didn't seem able to lift his spirits. Bo was merely confused at the way Poppy Paul was behaving. “Poppy Paul sad?” he asked Mattie. She had to admit Paul was very, very sad. “Bo help?” he asked. She embraced the big man, her eyes welling up, “if only Bo could...,” is all she said.
Even Advent couldn't take the weight of loss and disappointment from Paul's shoulders. It had always been his favorite season, but this year, he barely sang the wondrous Advent hymns, celebrated communion with little passion and his sermons were less structured, less poetic than they always were in the Season of Waiting. Perhaps he was through with waiting. Perhaps he thought there was nothing to wait for anymore.
Finally, a week before Christmas, Mattie could take it no more. She found him sitting in the Rectory office in the dark.
“Paul,” she said, “I think it's time you talked to someone. Won't you call Dr. Lewis?” David Lewis was the psychologist in a nearby town who Paul had recommended to dozens of people over the years.
He looked at her. Bo was behind her, in the doorway. Paul got up and moved toward her. “Do you think I'm crazy!” he shouted. “Is that what you think?”
Mattie was startled. She didn't remember a time in all their marriage that Paul had raised his voice to her like that. The shout sent Bo running. In a moment, they heard the front door open and close. Mattie went after him, but when she stood on the porch it was too dark to see where he had gone. Suddenly, Paul was beside her.
“He didn't take a coat,” she said, shivering in the chill night.
“I'm sure he'll come back soon,” Paul said, his voice full of guilt. “He won't go far.”
But a half-hour later, Bo had not returned though Mattie and then Paul had put on warm jackets and went out to call for him.
They were about to give up when Mattie said, “there's a light in the church.”
St. Luke's was never locked. People often let themselves in late at night, turned on the chapel light and sat for a while.
“That's not the chapel light...,” Paul said as they moved toward the door, “it's candles.”
Sure enough, Bo had lit the altar candles. He had also moved the creche figures from the table by the pulpit to the center of the chancel, arranging them just outside the altar rail. Since it wasn't yet Christmas, the figure of the Christ Child wasn't out yet, but as they moved down the aisle, they saw that Bo laying on the floor in front of the little foot-tall statues of Mary and Joseph, holding something against his chest.
“What on earth....” Paul's voice trailed off, beginning to comprehend the tableau before them.
“You see it too,” Mattie said in a whisper.
By that time, Bo had gotten to his feet and came hurrying down the aisle toward them. He gripped, Paul by the arm with one huge hand, in the other he gently held the creche's Angel.
“Come, Poppy Paul,” Bo said, excited. Paul let himself be led up the steps where Bo said, “lay down, Poppy Paul, lay down with Mary and Joseph.” Paul was already on his knees, tears were rolling down his face. He let Bo help him down until he was laying on his side. Then Bo pressed the angel into Paul's hands. “Poppy Paul's Mary's Baby too....”
Paul was weeping quietly. Bo looked anxiously at Mattie.
“It's okay, Bo,” she said, holding back a sob herself. She stood rooted to the spot and watched as Bo sat beside of Paul and cradled his head gently in his huge arms.
When the tears were over, Bo helped Paul to his feet. He looked at the priest with a compassion few would have thought him capable of and asked, “Poppy Paul is Mary's Baby too?”
“Yes, son,” Paul said softly, embracing the larger man, “Yes, my son, I am....”
Mattie held her hand to her mouth. Paul had never called Bo that before. And she could tell as Paul looked at her and held out a hand to her to join their embrace that light had come into Paul's darkness and his life-long waiting was over.
Bo hugged Paul back.
“Easy, son,” Paul said, wincing, “careful with my ribs....”

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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.