A Weekend to Remember

I went into the weekend slammed with work I had been unable to complete because of previous commitments. In my case, it’s usually feast or famine, so when feast times come, it’s usually best to dive in headfirst and remain there until most of the tasks are completed or at least whittled down.

But God had a different idea. A lot happened, but most of it spurring a contemplative mood that I haven’t been able to shake. Which is part of the reason I’m writing this. I can’t get back to work without saying something.

In the first place, one of those earlier commitments had been to spend two days with an author client, now friend, going over her manuscript, which is about a woman from the Greatest Generation, a woman who, as an aside, was the first civilian woman ever to jump out of an airplane with a parachute. That incident had occurred when she and her husband were traveling from Teheran back to Cairo where he was stationed just after WWII. They’d landed in the desert at night, and managed to find their way to each other despite it. (Almost comically, she’d jumped wearing a dress suit and high heels, and managed to do so without even getting a run in her nylons, which were still quite scarce.) A group of Bedouians had ultimately come along and led them in the right direction, or they might not have made it.

Then I’d gone to my first Leadership Asheville class, the topic of which was History and Diversity, and learned about the unanticipated negative impact of urban renewal back in the 60’s and 70’s on the African-American community.

Those two things alone were enough to get me started, but the ride had only just begun. Thursday and Friday had involved a children’s picture book about a stork and a pelican who were best friends, written by an author who happens to be Jewish. We’d ventured into a discussion of our feelings and ideas about the current deal with Iran.

By “accident,” I found out that a childhood friend, Gwyn Hyman Rubio, who I had only seen once in 40 years was signing her most recent book at a bookstore in Waynesville on Saturday afternoon. Waynesville is about 30 miles west of Asheville, and despite the rainy forecast, I decided I had to take my chances and go. I’d already heard from several friends in different parts of South Carolina that flooding had begun and the rain was still falling, but I thought, “What the heck! I don’t know when I’ll get another chance to see her.”

I figured too that it would boost my spirits. I was already feeling a little down with respect to our mutual hometown in South Georgia because one of the casualties of all my work had been the decision that I couldn’t make my 40th high school reunion, which was already in process.

By accident of schedule, my best friend Jan who’d driven over with me, and I were able to have a couple of drinks with Gwyn and her husband Angel. We talked about the book industry and its ongoing changes. We joked about the fact that though Angel is Cuban by ancestry, he isn’t related to the current presidential candidate whose last name he shares. We talked about the fact that I was missing the reunion, and commented on the continued need for racial dialogue and reconciliation across our beloved South.

Jan and I were hoping to meet her brother and sister-in-law for dinner, but missed it because of a wreck on I-40 on the way back–due, of course to hydroplaning–but were able to reschedule for Sunday evening. It was the first time we’d had a chance to see them after the tragic and inexplicable death of one of Sam’s closest friends on a motorcycle road trip they’d taken the weekend before. A large tree had broken off and fallen, landing squarely on his friend, killing him instantly. The chances were something like 1 in 20 million.

During the week, it had fallen to my friend Bek to provide support for the wife of the man who had died, and she described, in the midst of the shock and horror of the trauma, a most beautiful and holy ritual. Though both Christian and Buddhist in belief, the man’s wife had chosen the Buddhist tradition of mourning–his body remained at home, where it was carefully and lovingly washed and placed in a shroud. I couldn’t help but feel the holiness, the reverence of the experience, so foreign to most of us in the West.

Meanwhile, on Saturday night in New York, the son of two dear Jewish friends had proposed to his girlfriend. He’d drilled a hole in a book about his great-grandmother, an immigrant from Lithuania who came to New York to escape the Russian pogroms in 1906, and in the slot, he had placed his soon-to-be fiancee’s great-grandmother’s ring. It was October 3, coincidentally Brian’s great-grandmother’s birthday. Twenty-four family members had gathered together to surprise her in a restaurant around the block from their apartment in Manhattan and the celebration was on.

After hearing about it from my friends, I popped onto Facebook and saw posts from friends in South Carolina, seeing photographs from Columbia and Charleston and the flooding, of people helping others. I saw my sister’s post about her wedding day, October 4, 1996. Already planning to marry the next year, they’d abandoned those plans and married the day after he learned he had lung cancer. He would survive seven months.

I glanced at posts about the Oregon college shooting and the one just a week before in Mississippi, where a long time friend is also a professor, and the flack about the Pope expressly meeting both a gay former student and accidentally meeting the clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. I saw photographs of what was a joyful service at my old Episcopal Church, replete with all manner of animals brought for a blessing, including a few canines who reportedly howled in harmony with what I know was the beautiful soprano voice of my friend Jenn.

And, then, this morning, I saw a post from one of my classmate’s spouses, talking about the seeds of healing she had seen at the reunion, of racial reconciliation that had tenderly shown its face. And I had to stop and write, despite all the work still waiting for me.

At the very same moments in time this weekend, people were quietly renewing acquaintances and actively helping people they didn’t even know escape from houses submerged under water. They were mourning the very raw recent deaths of their beloveds and remembering those who have long since gone on. Even cross-species blessings were underway, odd timing given that Gwyn’s novel is about the intricacies of love for a human through the eyes of a parrot.

Black, white, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, male, female, older and younger, animals and humans, dancing and singing, howling and mourning, loudly and quietly in contemplation and action. And God was in the midst of them all.

There are no lines of demarcation when it comes to Love. They are only illusions.

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