It’s been a long time since the blessing “God be with you” disappeared into the word “Good-bye,” but every now and then some note of it echoes through us.
On opening day, a mom with a scarf tied around her neck hoists her six-year-old up on the first step of the school bus. “Good-bye,” she says. A dad on the phone with his freshman son takes him to task for poor grades and a party gone bad. After his harangue, there is only silence on the other end of the line. “Well, good-bye,” the father finally says. When the young woman at the airport hears the announcement that her plane is starting to board, she turns to the friend who is seeing her off. “I guess this is good-bye,” she offers. The elderly fellow tries to look vigorous and resourceful as he holds out his hand to his school chum, now white-headed, too. The noise of the traffic threatens to drown out the voices that once bellowed across playing fields or up and down hallways. “Good-bye,” they each say, so nearly in unison that it makes them both smile. (inspired by Frederick Buechner) You hear it whenever we gather to pray. A version of “God be with you,” begins most services, the preacher paradoxically preparing us to say “Good-bye” even as we say “Hello.”
I’ve been thinking about all of that, since the day Caroline told me that she would soon complete her time at Redeemer. I’m mostly sad, to lose the daily-ness of our interactions, the nearly constant laughter shouted up and down hallways, the plans hatched at staff meetings, the bubbling ideas, the naughty comments, the confidences shared at the close of business and sometimes through the evening. I’ll miss her courage. Caroline is very good at drawing boundaries, but when one or more of us suggested some new way to reach out, or to lead worship, or to gather the community, or to nurture the flock, she never responded with “Why?” Caroline always said, “Why not!” and we were off and running. I’ll miss her humility. Caroline prepares methodically, does her research, charts a road map, but she holds her plans lightly, ready to head in a new direction if the spirit calls. Frequently, as we debriefed a class or a sermon, Caroline would say, “Well, I thought I was going to Pittsburgh, and we ended up in Philadelphia, but I think that’s o.k.” I’ll miss her honesty. With counselees, with colleagues, with friends, even with a bishop, it is not unusual for Caroline to say, “I’m going to speak some truth.” She takes her lumps if others disagree with her, claims her insights as her own, and listens carefully for the wisdom of others.
I believe Caroline was set free by coming to her vocation as a priest as a second or third chapter in her life—after important work at Garrison Forrest, after degrees in counseling, after raising two children. She was genuinely surprised by the invitation to be ordained, and that spirit of playfulness has served her and us and the Church so well. She has had nothing to lose in her priesthood, nothing to prove, and so, almost anything has been possible. Her legacy, then, is an echo of the blessing she continues to be: openness, freedom, possibility, play. The joy of those lasing gifts is laid alongside my sense of loss and redeems it.
I spoke with another wise woman yesterday as we planned a memorial service. Speaking about her loved ones, she said, “At this point I understand there are five more things to say: Forgive me, I forgive you, Thank you, I love you, Good-bye,” and she went on. “I have taken care of the forgiveness work, and I am writing a thank you note to every person I’ve encountered in some significant way. I’m saying ‘I love you.’ All that’s left is for me to say is “Good-bye.” Me too.
Thank you, good and faithful friend. My gratitude for working beside you gives me such joy, even as I navigate your departure and its inevitable losses. God be with you.
P.S. Please join us on January 27 at the 10:00 service and a special coffee hour afterwards, as we celebrate Caroline!