I have a friend whose face I have seen only in photographs. We have never been in the same room; we have never shaken hands; we have never spoken. Nonetheless, I have considered this person a friend for many years. We met (if that’s the right word) through a listserve of Episcopalians and Anglicans many years ago and continued our friendship when most of that group migrated to Facebook. A couple of months ago, I noticed that my friend had stopped posting to Facebook. I tried to contact them, but notes sent by Facebook Messenger were never answered and they never responded when “tagged” in Facebook posts; I could not post directly to my friend’s wall, or so Facebook informed me. Eventually, it appeared my friend’s Facebook account was either deactivated or deleted. I did not have a phone number or an email address for them, so I was left in the dark as to what had happened to my friend.
I retired from active parish ministry as a priest in the Episcopal Church in December 2018 after nearly 29 years in holy orders, more than half that time as rector of one parish. Since then, my wife and I have visited several Episcopal congregations in this and other dioceses on Sunday mornings, not as supply clergy and spouse but simply as visiting worshipers.
In nearly every case, we have been greeted by friendly people, found worship that is lively and engaging, enjoyed sermons that are masterfully crafted and well preached by erudite clergy, and left feeling that we have encountered a loving God in a vibrant community. Oh to be sure, we have been able to find minor aspects to criticize, but these are merely the quibblings of professional church geeks; sharing them is how we amuse ourselves on the drive home. In the main, though, we have been very impressed at how well the Episcopal Church follows the first great commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
I don’t think that a single day has passed since my adolescence that I haven’t thought about death, my own death. Mortality has been a reality of life for me since my father killed himself in a drunken automobile crash when I was five years old. In my pre-adolescent years, I was convinced I would die before I turned 22; I’m forty-five years beyond that limit and death is a closer probability now than it has ever been.
Sometimes when I think about my death, I consider what it would be to die by accidental means. This is why I service my vehicle before long road trips, making sure the tires get rotated and properly inflated, having my service garage do its “88 point safety check” and change the oil, and making sure the safety box of road flares, bottled water, and space blankets is filled. This is why I stay behind guard rails at the Grand Canyon and Cliffs of Moher, and why at Dún Aonghasa on Inismór where there are no guards I stayed well back from the edge.
Lenten Journal, Day 41
“Day 41” seems odd to write in a Lenten journal, but I’ve not separated out Sundays in my count of the days. We say “40 days of Lent” because Sundays are excluded; there are actually 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. I started this journal on the Thursday after Ash Wednesday and called that entry “Day 1” … so, weird or not, I’m calling this “Day 41” of Lent.
It’s also “Chrism Tuesday” (not an official name), the day on which clergy gather with their bishop to renew their ordination vows. The actual traditional day for this is Maundy Thursday but somewhere along the line American dioceses moved this service to Tuesday in Holy Week. Today marks the first time in my ordained life that I have not attended the Chrism Mass. Instead, I went to the orthopaedic clinic and endured a session of biometric measurement gauging the progress of my knee replacement recovery.
Lenten Journal, Day 34
My intention when I started this exercise in Lenten discipline was to write for an hour each morning with no preconceptions about what I would be writing. Just sit down, put a figurative piece of paper in my imaginary typewriter, and start pounding the keys. It hasn’t quite worked out that way, but I have made the attempt (most days) to at least write something sometime during each 24 hour period.
Similarly, it was my intention to return to the gym (the Medina Recreation Center) this morning and do another half-hour of aerobic exercise on the recumbent crosstrainer and the indoor track. And similarly it’s not going to work out that way.
Lenten Journal, Day 33
I did it! I went to the gym this morning. How weird is that?
I went to the local Recreation Center, rode something called a “seated elliptical” or “recumbent crosstrainer” for 15 minutes (the Rec Center has the Nu-Step brand of these machines; I then walked the indoor walking track until I decided I didn’t want to overdo it and discourage myself with an injury. I needed and continue to need to do this for the on-going recovery of my prosthetic knee.
Lenten Journal, Day 30
Physical therapy. A synonymous term is “torture.” Today’s session proved that.
I am unhappy I made the decision to replace my left knee with titanium and plastic. The result is far from what I had hoped.
I don’t blame the surgeon. His work is fine. X-rays show everything is right as it should be. The scar from the incision is great, better than the one on my right leg, and there is no deficit of feeling nor any oddball itching, again better than the right leg.
No. The problem is my chronic Achilles’ tendon pain. I feared going in that my Haglund’s deformity and related bursitis would complicate recovery, but I also hoped that replacing the knee and going through the therapy afterward would benefit the ankle and foot. The fear was realized, not the hope.
Lenten Journal, Day 25
I have put off writing my journal for the Fourth Sunday in Lent because it was “one of those days.”
“Mama told me,” the song goes, “there’d be days like this.”
I was awakened when the dog yelped in pain, really cried out, and we’re not at all sure why. It may have been that my wife in the early morning darkness stepped on his paw, though probably not. When I examined him, it seemed that his pain could be either (a) sensitive ears – he is prone to ear infections; or (b) a sensitive jaw or teeth; or (c) his neck.
Lenten Journal, Day 24
Before I met my wife, I played racquetball a couple of times a week. I backpacked and went wilderness camping in the desert with friends. I rode a 15-speed bike to work. I was a downhill skier.
Before she met me, my wife played tennis. She went camping in the mountains of northern Nevada with her family. She rode her 12-speed bike across the continental US. She was a Nordic cross-country skier.
When we dated, we talked about these activities, imagining that we would share them with one another. We never did them as a couple . . . but we talked about them.
Lenten Journal, Day 19
A pink spot, sort of,
transparent, sort of,
maybe even not there, sort of.
First seen on my eReader,
on my iPad,
on my laptop screen,
on my Galaxy phone.
Imagined, really, more than seen,
an after-image of an after-image, maybe.