We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
- T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding, from Four Quartets
Heather and I had a fine dinner up in Mercer Saturday night, celebrating the 10th Anniversary of my Ordination, which is November 4. We had been at the same place in the spring, and tentatively left my name there for a reservation Saturday, thinking ahead. (We are planners)
Heather called them over the summer and confirmed the date for us, using her name, but when we showed up Saturday there was a table with her name, Kenvin, and then a table that said, "Wilson." We asked about the Wilson table, and the hostess said, "We haven't had any luck finding out who that was." Well, of course, it was us, leaving my name last spring. We were double booked! The hostess was good about it. The only other inquiry that night was for a table of 12, which she couldn't take, so all was well. We ordered an extra drink, in sympathy and support.
As we were coming back along the shore of North Pond, I noticed the lights of the camps across the lake. Fall lakes and fall camps are beautiful, melancholy places, "On Golden Pond" got that part right. In summertime, you look across the opposite shore and see the camps all lit up. Maybe you know some of those folks, or you recognize their boats, their floats, their docks, their fires. As the year progresses, the opposite shore darkens up a bit. The floats get put away. The canoes get turned upside-down. The fires slowly go out. And you are struck as much by what's missing as what's there: all of those lights gone out, and the ones that remain, their lights are like stars, putting out a light that seems to have traveled for years, and is just now reaching the earth.
We've lost a lot of folks in the church this year; we've lost many of the Saints. A lot of shore has gone dark, and we are left mourning those spaces between the stars. I was contemplating this up at the Maine Conference Annual meeting a week or so ago. Every year, the Maine Conference UCC puts up the names of ordained folks in the Conference and their ordination anniversaries. This year, for instance, my mentor Bill Bliss celebrated his 25th Ordination Anniversary in the UCC. His name was on the "25" slide. Somewhere in the 50-plus year slides, one name stood out: Rev. Herbert M. Whitehead, known to most as Rev. H. Macy Whitehead, another of my mentors. The trouble is, Macy's been dead for years, and his name never got taken off the slide. But there he was, and his name felt, to me, like the light that had traveled from a long-dead star, and was just now reaching the shore of North Pond. It would have been easy to be upset that folks hadn't kept track of him, but in reality all I felt was gratitude for his life's work, his example, and his companionship along the Way. His name up on that slide made that shore a little brighter.
Even though the folks at that restaurant didn't know who "Wilson" was, they saved a table, just in case. That was pretty moving, when you think of it. They couldn't reach us, didn't know who we were, but saved the place just the same; just in case. I wonder if maybe that's how God is with the Saints: saving a table, not knowing fully who we are, or whether or not we will show up, but that the light has arrived from across the lake, the name is on the slide, and a seat is waiting.
Peace to you, and to All the Saints.