not just passing through


    Lat night at the restaurant, I was the utility infielder, if you will, doing whatever prep projects I could find and then jumping in to help whoever was getting “in the weeds” as we say. A good deal of my time was spent shucking oysters since Gianni has a hard time doing it. It’s not that I’m a super shucker myself, but I was the one with the time to do it. I found this video clip that shows how it’s done:

    Multiply that by about fifty and you get an idea of how my night went. Needless to say, I’m a better shucker than I was when the dinner service began. Practice, in this case, improves both confidence and competency.

    But that’s not true of everything.

    I’ve spent most of my life moving. I’m fifty years old and I’ve lived in five countries, close to a dozen cities and towns, and have had at least forty different addresses. I am practiced at saying goodbye but, unlike oyster shucking, it has not gotten any easier. In fact, I think it has become more difficult.

    This morning, Ginger announced to our church that she is resigning to become the Senior Pastor of Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Durham, North Carolina. It’s goodbye again.

    One of the things I love about the UCC is the intentionality to which they call their pastors and parishioners when it comes to parting ways. I grew up in Baptist churches where the preacher stood up one Sunday, resigned with a two-week notice, and was gone before anyone had time to feel much of anything. The UCC suggests somewhere in the neighborhood of a sixty day farewell process, ending with a wonderful liturgy where both pastor and parish give and ask forgiveness; offer words of affection, gratitude, and encouragement; and release one another to what is yet to come. Yes, two months is a long time and the goodbyes are hard and yes, it’s worth it. We have stories to tell, things to do, and – of course – meals to share. What lies ahead in Durham is full of good people and amazing possibilities. At coffee hour, some folks asked me questions about the church there and the town as well. It is a cool church and the move is the right one for us.

    But today was the beginning of goodbye, which we must do well both to honor those whom we love here and to open our hearts to those whom we will love in the days ahead. Ginger and I married in April 1990 and moved to Boston in August. For the last seventeen years we have had a Massachusetts address and a zip code that begins with 0. We have been able to listen to Joe Castiglione call the Red Sox games on the radio when we couldn’t see Remdawg on TV or get to Fenway in person. We watched them build the Big Dig from start to finish (well – sort of a finish). Ginger has weathered not only the Boston winters, but my three major career changes and my depression. We found our home in the UCC here in churches in Winchester and in Marshfield. Ginger earned her doctorate and has carved out a significant place in the Mass. Conference of the UCC. We know how to drive in Boston traffic, know what a “regular coffee” is, are both loyal and addicted to Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, regularly use “wicked” as a superlative, can push a mean snow shovel, have laid on the grass along the Charles to hear to Pops play on the Fourth of July, and, week in and week out for the last seven years, worshipped and fellowshipped as members of North Community Church.

    As much as I love gospel music, one old hymn that has always bothered me is

    This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through . . .

    because I can’t come to terms with thinking of our lives as nothing more than way stations. All the joy, pain, sorrow, hope, love, and heartbreak are the existential equivalent of a bus station: we’re just waiting for our ride.

    No. I’m not here forever, but I’m doing more than passing through.

    One conversation I had at coffee hour today was with a woman who is a wonderful artist. She was asking me about my new job (which I get to say goodbye to as well) and I rambled on for a couple of minutes. She then noted she could see my passion for cooking even though she didn’t share it. In the course of her explanation, she said, “I think part of it for me is it’s so temporary. You finish fixing the meal and then it’s gone.”

    Yes. Exactly.

    My culinary art is lucky if it stays intact two or three minutes from the time I put the final garnish on the plate and notify the server. As we talked some more she said, “I guess what endures is you get to create something that lives on in what happens at the meal.”

    Again. Exactly.

    The table nearest our open kitchen filled up about eight last night and, when I finished cleaning my station at ten-thirty they were still sitting there. The food was long gone, but their conversation and laughter had been the soundtrack for the final hour of my evening. In the course of human history there have been very few days, if any, that resulted in something permanent. All of our art is housed in temporary exhibitions.

    What a gift that we have been created to attach to one another, to love one another, even when we know the goodbyes are inevitable. If we were only passing through, it wouldn’t hurt like this.



    1. Milton, a really big move this time. I’ll be praying for you both that you set down good roots again. Good, deep but perhaps ready to be replanted.
      Here’s to other tables and other soundtracks.

    2. Transitions are hard anytime, and your roots in Mass. are so deep now. But NC is beautiful, and I am excited for y’all, starting a new chapter together. Well, that all sounds like platitudes, but the excitement of journeying on together to something new is profound. God bless y’all in this time. I’m especially sorry you’ll be leaving this great new job, but I feel sure another is waiting for you.

    3. Wow! What a great big ol’ opportunity and life change…blessings to you both.

      Funny, in a blogging/cyberspace relationship, the leaving feels a little weird. You’re not really leaving us (I assume) but the dramatic change in your situation will impact anyone who reads you, who has become familiar with the tender love in and throughout your church home, the implied recognition of the geography of your life. I can sort of FEEL your move, but at such a distance; one that reminds me of the unique characteristics of this dialogue we all share.

      Very excited for the future for you. When it’s time to drive, wave as you go through Richmond. In fact, you can do more than wave; you have an open invitation to stay with my family on your pilgrimage. We’d love to treat you to a meal and a place of refuge before you leave the Old Dominion and hit tarheel country…

      Congratulations to Ginger, and blessings to you both.

    4. Wow…as an unwilling veteran of leaving myself, I sure empathize with you and Ginger..but you are exactly right, part of the joy comes in knowing that you guys did ministry and relationship the right way, by pouring your very lives into people and allowing them to pur theirs into yours…I know you both will be missed there, as you will certainly miss New England…but there is this huge consolation…the further west you get the closer you get to being a Cleveland Indians fan…Go Tribe! …and traveling mercies my friend…

    5. You could live 100 years in Maine and not be considered a Mainer unless you were born there.

      Even though it has taken you 17 years to pass through, you are both leaving a big impression.

      Too bad you missed 1978, though. That was a good ‘un.

      Blessings on you and Ginger, Milton.

    6. Milton,
      I hope you will feel extravagantly welcomed to North Carolina. Let me take you on a tour of the Carrboro Farmers’ Market before the weather gets too cold. I know you’ll love it.
      Seriously, I’d be delighted to be part of your unofficial welcome wagon.
      enz (from over at RLP-land)

    7. I have been following your blog for over a year now, and have always meant to leave a comment about how much I like it and learn from it and that I am often moved by what you write.

      I was catching up on the last couple of weeks’ posts when I read this one … and as a citizen of Durham, NC, I say come on down! We’ll be mighty happy to have you. I myself attend a flailing Episcopal church here, but have been meaning to visit Pilgrim, which is just down the street from where I live, and to bring a friend who is searching for a church and whom I suspect might just like it there. I truly hope you and Ginger will be happy here in Durham, which is pretty funky. And don’t forget, you may be saying goodbye to the Red Sox, but you’ll be saying hello to the Bulls, and that’s some kinda fun. My name is Frances, and I’ll come say hey to you guys in church when you get here.

    Leave a Reply