Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Month that Was

It's been over a month since my last, and what a month it's been:

I'm the father of a graduate. It was a time of great celebration and pride.  Not having done this before, it was my first as a father to help orchestrate how we'd celebrate.
"Where you want to have your family celebration dinner son?"  "Texas de Brazil."
Gasp...."ok." (a party of 16--largest check I've ever paid....exponentially more)

"How about with your friends?  How about a cookout at the house and you can have your friends over?"
"Sure, sounds great!"
"Is there anything in  particular you'd like to have at the party?"
"Could you get us a moonbounce?"

So Andrew and friends bounced, played and relished in the moment of such a profound transition for them.  And it is rather profound.  It was gratifying for me to see him celebrate so deeply in relationships formed in the 10 years of school he spent with these people.  It gives me joy.
And now Andrew has taken off the Red and White of Germantown.  It's time to put on the Blue and Grey!  Go Tigers!

It is something of great import for me to give to my children something I didn't have. I've written much about my compartmentalized childhood.  I blame no one for it.  It was what it was. The impact of it on my life is something I'm only coming to recognize in recent years.  Much of my soul work of the past several years has been spent understanding what of me was left in those sequestered chapters of the past, as well as what leaving those chapters beyond my choosing has done to make me who I am, for good and especially for ill - the points of correlation are unmistakable.

And I'm convinced that while who I am now, with all the self loathing traits I carry - the more authentic parts of me are trapped in the "me" who lived in Mayfield, and to a lesser degree in Malesus, and to a lesser degree still in Memphis.  And I'm trying like hell to find that Johnny and reacquaint myself with him again.

This past year has been an extraordinary one to do just that.  It began last fall as I ended up in Baltimore at a conference and there found Elaine, a childhood schoolmate from Mayfield.  No longer the stuff of distant memory, there she was...a manifest expression of life...of a friend from another time and place.  I wrote about that encounter here.

I attended Annual Conference last week  in Paducah, the city of my birth.
Much more on that later, but in short - the objectification of another's pain as a means to score self aggrandizing points is repulsive, right Jorge and Dick?--how's that for a teaser?

For two nights running, I skipped the evening gatherings of Annual Conference to visit with recently reconnected friends from Mayfield.  Kenny and I enjoyed some "table fellowship" and caught up further on our lives having reconnected for the first time in almost 30 years last March. Kenny and I went to church and school together, were teammates on The Longfellow Tigers football team. I have my clergy brother, Sky, to thank for this reunion.  Sky served as his pastor at Reidland, and somewhere along the line they mutually discovered they had "me" in common.

When we were together in March at Kenlake, it was a moment of immediate ease.  I was in the company of a friend of almost 40 years, whom I hadn't seen in almost 30, and at the same time we were in the company of his pastor, my friend since college days, and Brad and Rob, friends of 20 years.  Watching Rob and Brad watch me reacquaint with Kenny was an interesting thing.  They later reflected on how they had not seen me like that before.  We all went to dinner together in Murray.  That's when the stories started.  There's one in particular that hasn't been discussed by me really to anyone in 30 years.

After laughter and small talk, I jumped right in---

"So, uh, I guess it's time to talk about it, right?" I asked.
"I was wondering what was taking you so long." he responded.

So, I opened the vault on a story of long ago.
And watching my clergy brothers' faces as it unfolded was priceless.

Our two visits in March and now June have been great.  Kenny and I were buds back in the day.  Looks like we still are.

And then there's Liz.  She was my best friend from the ages of 6-12.  Liz, Kenny and I were confirmed in the same confirmation class, in 1975, by the Rev'ds Dr. Jerry Carr and Jeffords, as formidable a ministry team as the Conference has ever produced.

Liz's family was among several others with whom our parents regularly socialized.  We traveled together.  My first trip to Florida, when I was in the 4th grade, happened with our little cadre of families.

We never called each other boyfriend or girlfriend, but I loved her.  She was my friend.
After moving away our paths rarely crossed again.  The itineracy...stiff upper lip and all that.
She went on to live her life as I did mine.
I would keep up with her through her parents who were, for many years, lay delegates to the Annual Conference from their Church.  She and her husband came to our wedding, but that day was such a blur, it's hard to recall that.  The last meaningful time I had with her, along with the youth choir from Mayfield, was 1981, when they came to Underwood to sing on a Sunday morning in our worship, a weekend that was not my finest hour. PGA punch'll do that to ya...can I get a witness?!

Because of Facebook, we had reconnected.  We shared the occasional Facebook comment.  Knowing I was going to be in Paducah, I asked if she'd be open to a visit and I was thrilled by her willingness.

She, her husband and daughter (God bless her, she had to wonder who this weirdo was) and I met for dinner.  It was a wonderful time to talk, reconnect and reminisce.  Almost instantly, I felt home.  Right there in the dining room of your Paducah Fazoli's.  Not unlike what I had encountered with Kenny and Elaine, it was an altering experience.  Her husband took a picture, I knew my mom would want one, and we went our way (ironically to see her again only a few days later in Memphis at the golf tournament--twice in a week after nothing in 22 years, bizarre).

I'm not sure if the visit was what was so great, as much as how I felt in the midst of it.  What I'm coming to realize is that the reconnections of the week were greater in scope than merely reconnecting with friends of long ago. Because in them I'm reconnecting with a "me" I'd long since left behind.

It's not the "little boy" inside of me.  Although I could see where one would come to that conclusion.  No, it's the me that saw life differently, more hopefully.  The me without without walls of skepticism and cynicism that are both shield in times of yellow alert and a full blown weapon when I'm at red alert.  It's the me around which a fortress of self protection has been built over the years...a fortress that allows me only to share so much of myself, to trust, to love, to care ...but only as much as it won't expose me to any pain, because I've known that before.

The next day at Annual Conference I showed the picture to Lora Jean, my ministry partner, who can read me pretty well (which is really unfortunate because there are times I wished she couldn't.  However, I read her, too--and I'm sure she wishes I couldn't as well).  Immediately, she blurted out in a voice that indicated surprise -
"Look at your eyes!"

"What about them?" I asked.
"They're free, happy!"
"Really?" I asked.
Now LJ and I are both INFPs (makes for an interesting ministry team, we feel and perceive EVERYTHING!).  So I guess I have to trust she's seeing something.

If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then maybe mine are revealing something more than I know, beyond that which I'm consciously aware.

But as I continue to wrestle with who I am, what I am, why I am, and what I'll be, I cannot help but think that within the narrative that is my story, each of these seemingly disparate episodes are not nearly so much as it may appear at first glance.

In the last month, I had a front row seat at my son's rite of passage and pride doesn't quite capture it.  Pride in who he is, who he's becoming.  Pride under girded with thankfulness for him that he was able to take this long journey with the same group of people even though his father's current vocation is by definition itinerant.  Now, I'm not the first parent proud of a son, but this one is mine - and it's a cherished gift.

And in the last month I've transitioned from wallowing in the ontological muck of my life's direction to an intentional time of finding answers, so much of which I'm discovering has clues found in my past.  The benefit of reconnecting with my life in Mayfield is wonderful.  But the gem that informs my future is finding the "me" I was then and integrate him into the "me" that is now.

This metaphysical dance is a means of grace--I think.  I hope.  I pray.