Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Crazy things for love

Twice in the past two weeks, our friend Joanne, who is an accomplished belly dancer and one of my twin sons’ godmothers, has driven 100 miles to attend each boy’s eighth grade graduation.

In upstate New York, where I grew up, we didn’t stop and pass go for eighth grade. We just moved along to high school without fanfare or cash envelopes. But in Maine, where not so long ago, down these remote peninsulas where one could find ready work on a lobster boat or at your uncle’s boatyard, finishing eighth grade was something to be celebrated and cooed at. And it still is. The Kindergarten through Grade 8 school remains the norm around here and the eighth grade graduation is a community event. Though twins, our sons are very different people and for various reasons, one attended public school and one attended private. Joanne, who for some reason delights in these children of ours, made a point to attend both ceremonies.

“Can you join us for dinner after?” we asked as we sat down in the folding chairs in the gym before Colin’s graduation on Wednesday night.

“No, no,” she said. “Tomorrow night’s my belly dancing performance and I need to get to bed early.”

In the busyness of life, I had forgotten this.

“Tickets are five dollars with a non-perishable food item.”

“Okay,” I said warily. “I’ll be there.” I looked over her shoulder at my wide-eyed son, Martin, who looked exceedingly glad that I’d used the first person singular. “I’ve never seen anyone really belly dance before.”

The things we do for love.

Someday I will write an essay called, “The Long Con.” It will be about how my husband, Scott, whom I met when I was a 17 year-old college freshmen, told me on our first date that he yearned for a motorcycle. I’ve been firmly poo-pooing this idea for the past 27 years with such brilliant rejoinders as, “You’ll kill yourself! Or worse, you’ll maim yourself and I’ll have to care for you!”

I should have seen it coming several years ago when he talked me into letting him buy a scooter. “It only goes 35 miles an hour. It’s good for the environment.”

Then a few years later, “It’s not safe to drive on Route 1. When someone passes by, it’s dangerous. I might get blown off the road into a ditch.” Bigger scooter that required a motorcycle license ensued.

Then last year, “If I’m going to drive on the highway, I need a heavier bike,” he cajoled. “It’s a safety issue. There’s a Honda dealer in Chanute, Kansas that sells discounted never-ridden 2004s. It’s a great deal, but I have to pick it up in Kansas”.

That was the dumbest, middle-aged guy thing I’d ever heard, but it didn’t stop him from picking up two college buddies enroute and making a road trip to buy a mammoth scooter…which looks remarkably like a motorcycle … in Chanute. Kansas.

Early last Saturday morning our sons, who have recently entered their prime sleeping years, were in deep slumber. It was warm and sunny and I was drinking a peaceful cup of tea on the deck when Scott – or the Scooterian as he’s known among the on-line scooter community – stomped onto the deck in florescent yellow scooter garb and said, “We could go to Moody’s Diner for breakfast and the boys would never know.”

“You want me to ride on the back of the scooter all the way to Moody’s? That’s ten miles.”

“Sure. It’d be fun!”

I looked at this man on my deck with whom I’ve spent my entire adult life and with whom, God willing, I’ll still be eating dinner long after our sleepers have cleared out. And I said, “Okay, but no splaying of my body on the roadway.”

The things we do for love.

This morning, Bishop Chilton Knudsen and I had a conversation in her living room over apfelstrudel and coffee. After two years away working for a community development loan fund, I am returning to full-time diocesan employ in August. We had a lot to talk about.

We talked about the mixed signals we lay employees of the Church often feel in a work environment dominated by clerical types. Many of us have discerned that we are called by God to serve as lay people…that ordination isn’t necessary to do, as Rite One says so prettily, “all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in.” But despite that calling, sometimes our ministries are made to feel less important, less like real ministry, than those of our ordained colleagues.

The work I did as a communications director in community development and affordable housing was good work. It, too, was ministry. Low income Mainers and underserved communities benefit greatly from the efforts of organizations like the Genesis Community Loan Fund . And I never once had a phone call from a member of the press asking about human sexuality or financial misconduct or imminent schism or even “What is your organization’s opinion of the boycott of The Da Vinci Code movie by the Christian Civic League?”

My goodness, why go back to work in communications for the Episcopal Church? When I broke the news that I was returning to work for the Diocese to my boss - a wild and deeply caring man who is also cradle Episcopalian and a former senior warden, he smiled and said quietly, “That’s good for you. You should do that, but we will miss you terribly.” It almost broke my heart to part from these wonderful people, but my love for the mission of the Church is so compelling that it’s hard to explain.

We do all these crazy things for love. We attend tedious graduation ceremonies and enter dark theaters for mysterious belly dancing recitals. We ride on the back of dangerous two-wheeled vehicles because we know it will please our beloved.

We work for a Church that sometimes can’t find its way …when the way and the truth and the life is spelled out for us so simply: Hello, people! Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God, fear nothing, love your neighbor, tell the truth, teach your children kindness and respect, honor all people by seeing Christ in them.

God expects such hard and crazy things from us.

This afternoon I stopped with my sons at our local hardware store to buy rabbit food.

I’ve known the owners, Louis and Judy, for 20 years and charge everything I buy there without looking at the price. Their son, Mark, the manager, will glance at the sticker on whatever’s in my hand – a paint brush or a box of nightcrawlers - and say, “You’re all set,” and wave. Their store is as far from a big box as you can get and I will pay anything for it to be here 20 years hence. Today Judy weighed my bag of bunny pellets and wrote it down on a charge slip. Behind me in line my sons waited to buy a candy bar with their own money. They didn’t bother to waste their breath to ask if I’d buy them candy.

“Last day of eighth grade!” I said as I stepped aside, smiling because Judy’s known them since they were babies.

“Eighth grade!” she exclaimed, handing Colin back his dollar. “My goodness, that’s a big day! This one’s on me.”

Perhaps not everything we do for love is hard, but it’s almost always a little crazy.