There’s an old Seinfeld episode (I guess they’re all old now) where George keeps trying to figure out what to do after he tells a joke in a meeting. As soon as people start laughing, all he can think about is he doesn’t know what to do next and he ends up wrecking the moment. So he decides to take a page from Jerry’s standup and leave as soon as he gets the laugh, whether the meeting is over or not. The next time the joke works, he gets up and says, “Thanks for everything. You’ve been great!” and leaves the room, even though things aren’t finished just because he doesn’t know what else to do and he wants to go out on top.
In terms of affirmation and affection, Ginger and I could not be leaving Marshfield with any larger sense of our being loved. People have been amazing. The service yesterday was packed full of meaning and emotion; it was really good and really hard at the same time. Ginger baptized for the last time with the now almost seven-year old girl who was her first baptism standing beside her. We had ten new members join the church. And we said goodbye, even though there’s not an easy way to do that with people you love and there’s never a good time, if by good time we mean everything is wrapped up neatly.
This week, my task is to give my notice at the restaurant. Friday night, after Chef left, Sous was talking to me about how Chef has begun to move me around to different stations. She said, “He’s doing it because next year, when they open the new restaurant, he is going to put you and me in charge here to run this one.” I’m not sure I know how to describe the crash of emotions I felt in hearing the affirmation in a possibility that will not be birthed. I know, at least in part, what my future holds and it’s not here. I also don’t know how to be somewhere and not invest as though it’s something other than temporary, since the paradox of our lives is we live by eternal and temporal clocks at once everyday.
George wanted to leave them laughing because he didn’t want to feel uncomfortable; he left that emotion for those he left in the room. It makes for good situation comedy but lousy living. My part in our mutual grief is to carry my part of the weight. As difficult as it is to be the one who is packing up the plans in rented moving vans, I think it is harder, in some ways, to be the one who stays. I carved a place for myself at the restaurant: I have become the one who makes the corn sauce and slices the shallots and sees when we need to slow roast additional tomatoes. Just about the time they’ve gotten used to me doing those things, I’m going in to say I’m going to do them somewhere else. I know it’s my job and I get paid to do what I do, and I want more out of life and work than to walk in and say, “So long and thanks for the fish,” when it’s time to go.
The restaurant, like the church, will go on without me. Neither one will hang a sign on the door that says, “We can’t do this anymore because Milton left.” I’m not indispensable, and I’ve flavored the world I’ve lived in for these past seven years just as they have spiced up my existence. I’m aware that, like the widow in the lectionary parable yesterday, I’m repeating the same theme over and over in my posts: leaving is messy and meaningful.
When I was a youth minister, I took a glass of water one night at youth group and put my hand into it; then I pulled it out. “Here’s how life works,” I said. “As long as my hand is in the water, you can see its place. As soon as I pull it out, the water fills in. The only evidence it was ever there is my hand is wet.” That our lives will go on without the daily contact is true, but that’s not what I want to take away with me as I go. What matters is we got to spend any days together at all. Of all the churches and towns and restaurants in the world, I have been here for these days and I have been changed by those I have lived with. And now I go, soaked in love and encouragement, dripping with the hope of what lies ahead.
Thanks. For everything. You’ve been great.