Friday, November 20, 2009
A long but wonderful day
Yesterday was a very long but strangely wonderful day. I tried not to think about it beforehand - just kept pushing myself to try to get ready in time because there was a good chance (as Jim often half-joked about) I'd be late to his funeral, punctuality not being my strong suit. I also pushed out of my mind any thought of how I would get through the long hours from noon to 7:00, first at the funeral home and then at the visitation and reception at church. Although I can write up a storm and talk your ear off one on one, I'm truly an introvert. Put me in a crowd (more than three people), and I clam up, panic, or just get overly anxious. I know I can "handle" just about anything I put my mind to, but getting through most social occasions, especially involving people I don't know well or not at all, is quite a chore. Needless to say, I was not born to be a rector's wife.
All I wanted out of Thursday was for people to gather and make their peace with Jim's departure. For me, I was just going to plod through, be a trooper, and then let my emotions swell with the glorious music and, I hoped, cry my eyes out.
It didn't work out that way - not at all. For days now (and again today) I've had this big knot and deep ache in my gut. I have difficulty sleeping, especially from about 1 to 4 a.m. And at times I feel like I'm in the Twilight Zone. But yesterday afternoon and evening suddenly a great calm settled inside. I don't know that I did a great "job" greeting and meeting people at the church, but I was relaxed and truly enjoyed it -- looking into each person's eyes, reading their pain and concern, listening to their words, and marveling at some who told stories of their times with Jim. There were people from downtown restaurants and diners, waitresses and owners, who told me how much they enjoyed his good humor and cheer. There were children, young choristers and teens, both the boys and girls high school varsity soccer teams and their coaches, local Roman Catholic clergy, and those from various denominations who had been recently working with Jim in a series of community organizing meetings under the auspices of PICO. Parishioners came, not just from Grace but from area churches, whom Jim had listened to and supported in many ways, and there were all the Episcopal clergy and staff, with whom he had shared his wisdom and counsel and given much care. There were tears and many, many hugs. No one told me anything I did not know already about Jim and how he affected people, but it was as if the whole of his life outside of me and our family appeared in the flesh before me.
At the core of Jim's convictions was the Incarnation. He once explained Anglo-Catholicism to me as deeply rooted in the notion that we could see, touch, and taste God. The mystery of the Real Presence in the Eucharist was one and the same as the face of God we see in each and every one of us and in the greater Creation that surrounds us. Worship and prayer that involves kneeling, standing, crossing and genuflecting, songs and music, candles and incense are a physical expression of our faith, as is feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, and caring for those who are abandoned. All that somehow came together for me Thursday afternoon, in the vast expanse of sanctuary, with the votive candles and Sr. Mary Gabriel's icon, where Jim's body lay in the nave, as people came one after one to kneel beside him and say their goodbyes.
This was so unexpected. In the past, to the little extent I ever contemplated Jim predeceasing me, I was ambivalent about the role the church would have to play in his funeral arrangements and what I formerly thought would be the focus on his personhood as priest, which might well eclipse the man who was and is my love, my life, and husband. But what I experienced on Thursday was not an "either / or" but a richness of "and"s. Each person reflected a layer of who and what Jim was in life, and the glorious celebration that followed was for the man and priest who was one and the same.
Posted by klady at 3:14 PM