The few adult friends of mine who had the good fortune to meet my father all had a similar reaction: “I can’t believe that’s your father.” For one thing, there wasn’t a strong physical resemblance. I very definitely favor my mother (but my sister looks like her dad). And even though we both went to the same school, K-12, and even had a couple of the same teachers, we are featured in very different parts of the yearbook. My dad was a gifted athlete with a confident swagger. He was king of the winter carnival, our school’s equivalent of prom king. But he was academically indifferent. In some ways, I was the opposite. I wasn’t on any sports teams but excelled in classwork. You’ll find his face in photos of the football, baseball, basketball and track teams. I’m in everything musical – concert, marching and stage bands, chorus and musical theater. We were both class officers, all four years of high school, but he was class president while I was the treasurer.
It was as an adult that I began to appreciate our less obvious similarities. We both love Hank Williams and did get to play guitars and sing together. We both like building and fixing things and have lots of tools. We both love to laugh out loud and do so easily. And we both tear up easily too. The fact that my father wore his heart on his sleeve was a beautiful and cherished
discovery. He’d weep over Ray Charles singing “Love of My Life.” His sorrow after the death of his wife Virginia was heartbreaking. And one of the most profound experiences of my life was when, after I began my recovery from alcoholism and some years of estrangement, I sat with him and told him what I had been and was going through. As I spoke, his eyes filled with tears and we confessed to each other our sorrows and regrets.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my father’s surprising tenderness and vulnerability as we all are moving through these strange and troubling times. I’m prone to tears more often than usual. Some of you saw that at the end of last Sunday’s live stream when I couldn’t quite keep it together as I imagined everyone who wasn’t with me in the sanctuary that day. I started sobbing recently as I watched an HBO documentary about the so-called Miracle On Ice at the 1980 Winter Olympics (FYI, my father and I are from Lake Placid).
And last Saturday as I stood on the Church Street sidewalk while we handed out bagged meals to our homeless and urban poor guests I could feel the tears coming. There I was, in my sweater, jacket and hat with the certainty that I would be heading home to a warm house and a full pantry while people came to receive our modest offering wearing thin shirts and no socks. Women and men who would not be heading indoors any time soon and for whom things are getting harder as services curtail or shut down. My heart breaks for them and I’m so proud of those DPC servants who are working so hard to keep our meal program going.
I also feel the tears of frustration at our uncoordinated and underwhelming national response to this virus crisis. How did we get here? Who do I trust? My own emotions are very close to the surface. And I wish I could call my father and hear his voice, receive his encouragement, feel the confidence and pride that he had in me.
Perhaps this emotional vulnerability that we all seem to be feeling is not the worst part of this awful experience. Maybe it’s an opportunity for us to be more real and genuine with each other. To wear a little more of our hearts on our sleeves. In this time of social distancing, is it possible that we are being given an opportunity to be less emotionally distant, to set aside that everything’s-fine mask we so often wear?
This Sunday’s text is John 11:1-45, the story of Jesus raising Lazarus. I think Jesus is more emotionally transparent and vulnerable in this story than in any other. He lets his deepest feelings come through. He weeps in sorrow and frustration. He shows his deep affection for Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. Might this be just the story we need for just such a time as this? Might this be just the Jesus we need right now and who we need to be?
Grace and peace,