It’s mid-afternoon on Labor Day in These Parts as I sit down to write this post. I thought I’d be able to write something this morning, or maybe earlier this afternoon. There’s much to say about B’s funeral, about conversations I had with old friends there, about the beautiful tribute from her retired pastor, who had also been her friend since they were in first grade together. There’s much to say about labor and rest, about finding the balance and seeking the work that’s right for each of us, at this particular time, in this particular place. There’s much to say, too, about how our right work changes over time. The right work for me in 1992, when I met B and Mrs. D and the others, was certainly related to the right work for me today. But the details and the context are different. I don’t think I could have done the current right work in those days, and I know that I couldn’t do those days’ right work anymore.
I think that’s why it was hard to to start writing this post. I spent a lot of time on Saturday remembering and honoring the work that B, Mrs. D, and the rest of us did almost a quarter-century ago. It was good work, even right work, for all of us in those days, and we were all motivated to do it well. But the Much Younger Me of 1992 has grown older, and the younger, more vigorous friends from those days have grown older, more frail, more shrunken. “It’s good to see you,” I said to so many people, “but I hate having to see you at times like this.”
B’s church, where she and her husband were faithful members and faithful workers for so many years, is barely a hop, a skip, and a jump from the Current House, and it’s even closer to the house where B and her husband lived and faithfully worked to for all those years. There’s a grove of trees around it, but the cemetery itself was in full sun by the time the service was over. We stood silently in the heat and humidity as B’s body was committed to the earth. And we honored the work she’d done for so many years, and we remembered the work we’d all done together. And we exclaimed over children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who used to be small.
“This will be a hard weekend,” said my old friend S, who still looks as vigorous and youthful as she did twenty years ago, but moves more slowly and sees herself as an “old lady” these days. “I’m so glad you came,” said M as we hugged each other. B, along with M and L and T, made a group of friends known as the “Feisty Four” … and B, as we all knew, was the ringleader and the feistiest. As we talked, we honored the work we’d all done … and we honored the work that B had done. And then, all too soon, it was time to say our goodbyes and farewells, to travel the hop, skip, and jump back home.
I’m grateful for patient children and patient animals this weekend. It was a quiet, sad time for me. It’s a transitional time anyway, as summer yields to fall and old routines change in important ways. And I felt oddly conflicted, oddly torn, as I thought about changes I’ve longed for and eagerly embraced … changes that are now in motion, waiting just around the corner. Those changes still seem sweet and necessary and vital and life-giving, but they’ll take me even farther away from the Much Younger Me who needed B’s advice and support.
“I can’t believe,” they all said, “that The Girl is a senior! I remember when you used to carry her around!” I told The Girl about that on Sunday morning, as she was about to spend time with little ones about the size that M, L, T, and the others remember. She smiled, and I thought once again about the different work of parenting as children age. And since I had some time, I sat in the quiet church library and re-read the first few chapters of Ed Bacon’s book 8 Habits of Love.
Generosity, stillness, and truth. Those were the chapters I’ve re-read so far. And it seems they were exactly what I needed on this strange, peaceful, sad, transitional weekend. The little joyful community of friends who gathered on Saturday has scattered; we don’t see each other every working day as we did Back Then, and B isn’t the only one of us that we won’t be seeing in These Parts again. It’s easy to feel fear and dismay when you lose someone close, easy to fall into scarcity, to cling ever tighter to the Same Old Same Old with its stale, but somehow comforting, familiarity. I wore an old shirt one day last week, a shirt I remember buying almost exactly ten years ago … and as I chose it, I fleetingly wondered if, somehow, I could return to the Former Me who bought it, to the Former World in which it was manufactured, the Former Mall and the Former Store and the Schools As They Were.
And then, even in my sadness, I had to laugh at myself. Those Good Old Days had their goodness, but they were hardly the sepia-toned perfection I was imagining. “Back in the Day, when Teachers Were Revered” … today Ms. X and Mr. Y think that was then, but then they thought it was even further back.
When you build and sustain joyful learning communities, its important to honor the work, and that includes honoring the past, remembering where you started, seeing how far you’ve come. But honoring the past doesn’t mean dwelling in the past, and it can’t mean trying to return. I wonder what other insights and discoveries await on these next, exciting, unfamiliar steps!