I can’t believe it’s been nearly 9 months since I wrote a post for this blog! It feels like we’ve been in suspended animation. When I was a child, I was haunted by a movie in which sensory deprivation was used as a form of torture. I believe we have all been experiencing a bit of this as we have isolated ourselves from each other. No touching, definitely no hugging. No visible twinkle in a friend’s eye; no raised eyebrows, cocked with understanding. No random conversation, no club meetings. No direct information sharing. I was horrified to learn one of my best friends unexpectedly lost her son. Even more devastating was that our isolation was so severe, I didn’t even learn of this young man’s death until two months after he was gone?
Another friend couldn’t get in to visit with her Mom in an assisted living facility. An iconic picture of them, elderly Mom inside a window, and daughter standing outside remains a chilling reminder of 2020. Even more devastating was knowing that when that elderly Mom lost a dearly beloved sister, she couldn’t attend any of the family rituals we share on those occasions. Nor could we celebrate the life of this same Mom when she passed a few weeks ago…and this story can/is repeated.. .lived!…by hundreds of thousands of other families. Yes, This is AWFUL!!!
So where does this “After Glow” come from? Is it possible to find hope amid the current crises? How does one remain positive in the face of a very real global pandemic, coupled with looking at the seamy under-belly of a nation that seems to have gone awry? How do we move beyond the seeming negative odds we face? Will our communities ever be the same again? Will we be able to trust each other again after the worst is over?
Allow me, if you will, to share a very personal journey. A long journey which has taught many lessons. If you know me at all, you probably have been part of the journey, and most likely, I am very grateful for the role you have played. So, thank you ahead of time, for “being there.” For being “God in the flesh” time and time again for us. Because of you, afterglow is not only possible, it is real!
This journey began when I was nine, at a girls’ camp in the mountains of East Tennessee. That camp yielded the first clues I had that I was to have a special “mission” in life – one that was involved in service to others. I was too young to understand this as a proverbial call into the ministry. Nor did I understand that God’s claim was to be ever-present, ever-demanding, ever-rewarding … a life-changing, on-going event that would literally carry me into senior citizenship and beyond!!
The ensuing years have yielded, time and again without fail, the affirmations a minister needs to survive. With no exceptions, someone has always arrived on the scene with just what we needed. These “God in the flesh” moments were always reminders of our humanity, of our need for community, for relationship,
Now, at the other end of that “career,” we are children again, seeking to know who we are to be in a society that is changing more rapidly than we can comprehend. Retirement is one of our sacred dreams in America – the dream of being free from the demands of a career, of being independently wealthy, having no responsibilities to anyone, of being completely free to come and go as one wishes. Yet, when one actually hits the retirement wall, there are “ hidden” parts of the dream that are often glossed over. All those years spent thinking “Someday I will..” or “I’ll save this for a rainy day…”. or “when I get old I will…” Retirement brings with it the reality that someday is here, and it’s raining! And guess what! You are now old!! (It’s no wonder that some folks have heart attacks and die at this stage of development!)
So, what about this “after glow” thing? Our sacred rituals have been ripped away from us in recent months. In our culture, as in most places, we gather in groups when we celebrate and also when we mourn. We create a sense of belonging in these gatherings, which carries us beyond the event with warm memories and assurances that all is well – this is what I call “After Glow.
Americans have been seemingly hell bent on keeping our rituals, gathering in large groups for weddings, funerals, beach parties on holidays, etc. In so doing, we have jeopardized the existence of many loved ones. It’s no surprise that we now rank #1 in the world in Covid-19 cases and deaths! Sometimes I wonder if we are more afraid of loss of the sense of belonging than we are of death itself!
Yet, some of the more creative thinkers in our society have or are developing ways to be together, to create a sense of community, while still helping us keep “socially distant”. And that brings me to the most important realization of the journey! My husband and I recently retired after more than 43 years in the ministry. The journey to this point took us through many local churches, many different roles within the local community: from private music studios to the public school classroom, from choral music director to the organ benches of at least 7 different denominational churches. It’s been sort of a patch work quilt of a career, and we are tired! We set the retirement date several times, and in the end, we delayed it for several extra months, hoping to get “back to normal” after the pandemic restrictions. When we finally gave up, realizing that “normal”is still months, if not years away, we set a final date, figuring we would just fade away into the abyss, with little celebration, no fanfare. But our friends had other ideas! Our last day was marked by a parade of cars that slowly drove by, each one stopping to wish us well, some with signs, balloons, flowers, music, homemade cobbler, homemade gifts. Others sent cards and gifts via the mail. A different sort of celebration, but one that has left us with that afterglow of warmth, knowing that we are loved and won’t be soon-forgotten!
So, where does this after glow come from? Where can we find hope when all around seems dark and jumbled? Simply put, we have seen over and over that God loves us. To me, it was no accident that the events of our lives have dovetailed with the gifts of those around us. God said that we will not be left comfortless. God is with us, redeeming the worst that life has to offer, leading us through the darkest days. I’ve been there. I’ve felt the presence of a Loving Entity, larger than life itself, and I live in the After Glow!