Thursday, May 17, 2012

Dispatches from Renewal Leave: Leslie

This is Leslie. 

I'm sitting in her house in Montclair, NJ, and together we're looking at old photo albums of our days together as a part of the community of Vanderbilt Divinity School in the mid/late '80s.

Up until last month I had not seen her since 1992 when she showed up unexpectantly in worship at Asbury.  Except for a Christmas card here and there we'd really not kept in touch.  I knew she had married and that she had a child. 

Such is life, right?  

People's journeys intersect ours along the way. Who they are and what they share with you while your lives are engaged in that thing you hold in common leaves its mark. And yet, once that chapter comes to its close, folks move on. 

It's the normalcy of life. In it is wrapped the totality of emotion and experience.

Leslie and I were friends, but not to the exclusion of others. We were among a cadre of 12-15 who hung together though the crucible that is Divinity School. We communed and commiserated through the existential crises that's part and parcel of sensing a holy call (in all the varied ways that's manifested), being educated in an historically erudite setting, and all the while relishing in our humanity. At times that was in the extreme.  Often it was fun, very fun.  It was always intense.  Always.  We worked hard.  We played hard.

How we all found each other is really a mystery. We were all very different.  For a time, for a season, we were congregation, therapy group, fraternity and sorority brothers and sisters together (with everything imaginable thereto appertaining).  If the instrumental theme from "St. Elmo's Fire" is swirling in your mind, it applies.

We all left The Divinity School, went our seperate ways and took up our charge to live out the call and do the work...."Ministers as Theologians" were we.

Reconnecting has been among my most pressing spiritual work through the emergence of my wilderness.  Aspirations for physcial health, being what they are, had to be balanced with renewed work within.  No inward work can have integrity unless it's expressed outwardly.  That's as basic as understanding faith and righteousness itself.  

When I knew I was taking renewal leave some months ago, and I knew I was going to spend a week in New York, I thought I'd try to find Leslie.  Had an old email address.  She's not on Facebook.  I wasn't sure she still lived in the area.  So, I did what anyone would do in this situation.  I "Googled" her.  Lo, and behold, she had a website.  I clicked the link, and up popped this very professional headshot with details of her counseling practice as well as contact information.

I reached out.  She responded enthusiastically.    Back in my Vandy days, when being relevant mattered more to me than it should, I wasn't "Johnny."  I was "John."  That's how those folks know me.  
"John!!!!  Yes!  I can't wait to see Kristy and you."

The next week she called me to tell me that the week I was coming might be a challenge and wanted to make sure I was ok with it.

"What's going on?"  I asked.
"Well, my husband's family from Ohio are coming in that week to meet part of the family they've never known before who are coming in from Sweden, and I'm playing tour guide and host."

"I certainly don't want to get in the way.  If something works out, great, and if not, that's ok." I said.  
"You won't be in the way," she said, "it could just get 'intense.'"

Leslie always had a way of saying the word "intense" that was, well, intense.

"Why have they never met before?"  I asked.

"My husband's father and his sister were separated after the war....they survived the Holocaust, and after 60 years their children have found each other.  This week at my house will be the introduction."

"Wow! We don't want to intrude."  I said.
"You're not, and Victor (her husband) wants to meet you."

"Leslie, we wouldn't miss it."
And we didn't.

Next Dispatch from Renewal Leave:  Witness