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Posts Tagged ‘Rev. Nancy Wood’

This weekend I spent time in Rhode Island with a group of people who have all been chairs (well, four of them are about to assume that role over the next two years) of the Star Island conference we attend.  About sixty people show up, and this group — diverse, smart, interesting and holding divergent opinions — come together to share stories and conduct the business of our conference.

My parents were members of this group, as were the parents of several others now present among us.  We are a self-perpetuating alliance, and we follow a sometimes-bumpy but always well-intentioned path designed to ensure the longevity of our conference, a legacy we seek to hand on to those who will follow us.

Some of our closest friends are part of this clan…people we love as brothers and sisters or kindred souls.  People who are like surrogate parents, people with whom we have shared the birth of our children, the death of our parents, the loss of jobs, the estrangement of family members, serious illness.  In other words, the stuff of life.

We eat lunch and meet on Saturday…a (too) long meeting, with a break for dinner.  In the evening, there’s poker playing to raise money for our conference financial aid fund, partying, dancing, more catching up.  And then on Sunday, after breakfast, there’s a fund raising silent auction (again, to help our financial aid program), and we worship together with a lay-led service of music, reading, reflection. After that, we all fly away, only to (with heaven’s grace) gather again on Star Island in the summer.

Today, as one of the worship leaders, I started to sing the Appalachian folk song “Bright Morning Stars” as a way of drawing us together in a not-very-worshipful space.  I had the song worked out in my head, and I stood up, and started the first verse:
“Bright morning stars are rising,
Bright morning stars are rising,
Bright morning stars are risng,
Day is a’breakin’ in my soul.”

As I began the second verse  (“Oh where are our dear fathers, Oh where are our dear mothers, Oh where are our dear fathers, Day is a breakin’ in my soul”) I looked out at the faces.  There, I saw the Vermont psychotherapist who tells Vermont folk tales and whom my father, a social worker, adored.  I saw the ‘elder statesman’ couple of our group, the sometimes-cranky-but-loveable retired radiologist and his wife, an artist, therapist, and ultimate sensible and upbeat surrogate mother.  And then, the retired lawyer and his wife, former conference treasurers, who had been my parents’ closest friends for decades.

And I lost it.  I had gotten caught by a flood of emotions and memories, all tied up in that room, which I had not been expecting and which my head could not manage.  My life is inextricably bound up with these people, and my heart controls these emotions, no matter how hard I might wish for it to be otherwise.  I tried taking a deep breath to stop the sobs.  Nope.  I motioned for my husband, who (saint that he is) dove under the table to join me in the center of the room, holding on to me.  Together, we got out that second verse, and then the third (“They have gone to heaven shouting…”).  I was a mess, for I had forgotten what the people — even away from the place — mean in my life.

I resonate with what my friend, Rev. Nancy Wood, wrote about her experience last summer on Star Island: “I spent time with friends I really love … here they were again, rocking beside me, through grace alone. I watched my children fly kites and play on rocks, make new friends and eat too much ice cream, sing their hearts out in the talent show and sail out into the harbor on a homemade raft. I shared meals with really interesting people and there, breaking bread together, they told me the stories of their lives. Through it all, I could be present for what was, not needing to make the moment or the people or the place into anything other than what was right there.”

That place, these people, those feelings…all these things, our hearts control.  Not our heads, the place where we make tough decisions, manage large businesses, decide what investments to make.  These people own my heart, and probably I, theirs, at least a little.  It is surprising to come to the realization that it is so.  So often I want to be smart, on topic, incisive, a player. Here, I am at once the little girl on the swing in the breeze on the island lawn, the teenager with the flowing hair heading out to East Rock to watch the sun rise, the woman in love going off with her beloved to share a quiet moment in the tall grass, the reluctant adult, mourning her parents passing in the old stone chapel with the community of souls she has known for so long.

“All life is one,” the hymn says, “a single branching tree.”  With these friends, these symbolic parents, and the memory of those gone to heaven shouting, I continue to be blessed.  They speak to my heart.

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