The mind does funny things, doesn’t it. Seizes on a memory, wanders with it, goes somewhere long past. This one often starts when I swing out of bed, place my feet on the floor, and stare out into the darkness.
What, twenty-five years ago? a parishioner who was a friend at the time came to me almost in despair to moan that he was waking up at four o’clock in the morning and could not get back to sleep. It had been happening for weeks now, becoming a habit Gordon could not shake. He did not appreciate my response, that my body clock had started rousing me by four a.m. years ago, that I had decided to enjoy it as a pleasant time for solitude, thinking, prayer, reading, watching the day open. I suggested that Gordon change his attitude: if he could not break the early waking habit, decide to enjoy it instead of letting it make him angry, upset, unhappy. It had worked for me, still does, but Gordon did not like my idea at all.
Five years or so earlier, Gordon had been the very first person to greet me the spring Sunday morning in 1984 when, at the bishop’s invitation and arranging, I had visited Trinity Church to meet the folks and talk about possibly coming to be their priest. I had liked him instantly, taken with his gracious welcome and his soft, slow drawl that while Southern was even more uniquely Apalachicola, “Fawtha Wellah, we coit’nly are glad to see you today!” We were living in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and meeting Gordon sparked a refreshing change from the fast life in the frantic zone that I had lived for the prior twenty-seven years, twenty in the Navy, seven more years in my business travelling, going to seminary, and teaching as adjunct professor at the University of West Florida, which was why I happened to be in Florida that weekend. But this was about early rising, not about Gordon, who some years later came to hate me, my bewildered first experience of what often happens when clergy are asked to counsel marital issues; and it ends up that one or both parties come out hating the counselor -- why? the priest never understands, I never understood. Still don’t.
That’s where the mind goes: to an exclamation point and question mark. I need to find another end to that story.
The story actually ended happily for the other party, who is alive and well, long ago remarried and moved far away. Less so for Gordon, whose name I’ve changed this morning. As I didn’t find out for years, he was a lifelong alcoholic who never got it under control, lived out life mostly alone, raging angry, threatening and frightening, a man to stay away from. Gordon is long dead. My sadness was that we never recaptured the friendship that began as a warm welcome into happiness, thirty years ago.
TW+ mucking along in +Time