I trained my replacement tonight.
The guy who will take over at the Duke restaurant next semester worked alongside Abel and me to get a sense of how things work and, I’m sure, how he might do things differently once I have shuffled off to high school. He’s a really nice guy, a strong cook, and pleasant company for an evening in the kitchen. He got along well with everyone, asked good questions, and helped us through the dinner rush. Here in a couple of weeks he will be the chef and I will be, well, gone.
I am replacing someone else at school.
If all the world’s a stage and we are only players, most of our roles are replacement parts. We pick up where someone else left off, or just left, and inhabit the role until it comes time for us to make our exit and hand the part on to the next person in line. Sometimes we are the ones originating the role on opening night; occasionally, we are the ones who stand on the stage when the curtain falls on the final performance; but most of the time we are acting in the middle of life, playing our scene, and moving on. It true in things both big and small. On the way to work today, I stopped to fill up my car with gas. When I went inside to pay, I took the place of the person in front of me at the cash register; when I turned to leave, there were four people behind me all waiting for their moment in the contagion of life at the Family Fare. I walk into a nearly hundred year old house that has been the stage for more than one family in its life, painting their stories into the walls and breathing the fertile air of memory as it seeps through the cracks and into my soul. One day, we will walk away and let someone else play the scene.
The temptation is to try and leave some sort of mark, something indelible. When my brother was in high school, he had the lead in the musical for a couple of years. One year, the show was Half a Sixpence and one of the scenes took place on the beach. One of Miller’s good friends, Mark, played the part of a weightlifter on the beach (it was typecasting, trust me) and his task was simply to stand in the background, but he couldn’t help himself. He began to flex and pose, and he began to get noticed. He kept going and it got funny. It also took away from the play because we were no longer watching the main story unfolding because we were watching him.
That’s not how we get remembered.
“Remember me,” was what Jesus said as he passed the bread and cup to his disciples on the night he was betrayed. “As often as you do this, remember me.”
The motion of passing the bread and cup one to another down the pew during Communion seems good metaphor for the motion we must learn in life to keep learning and living. We reach with one hand to replace the one who received before us and we then turn to offer the tray to the one who will replace us, even as we all sit one beside another, connected. Being replaced is not being forgotten.
Though, I suppose, sometimes it is.
When we sing hymns, and even name hymns, we stop or breathe at odd places, breaking up thoughts and phrases without even realizing what we are doing. One of the hymns of my youth that has stuck with me we call “Take My Life and Let It Be,” ending the title in the middle of a thought, and unwittingly making a very interesting theological point, or even a prayer: God, take my life and let it be. Amen.
A prayer like that is speaking words of wisdom: let it be.
Yes, I trained my replacement tonight. When my two and a half years are done in a couple of weeks, the nights I am not there will stack up the same as those I inhabited until I have been gone longer than I stayed. I’ll be tethered by some friendships I made during these days that are larger than a dinner shift and are not defined by a kitchen and we all will keep moving through the mix of presence and absence that makes up our lives. I don’t know what to do with the mix of feelings, even though they are quite familiar, but it felt important to notice and remember.