The Practice of Encountering Others

We live in a fearful world. We read about or experience random acts of violence. In a 24/7 news cycle we may become suspicious of those we don’t know and tempted to surround ourselves with those who are familiar and make us comfortable.

The flip side is that it is often the stranger, the one we do not yet know, who offers a blessing. I recently flew with a family member who became ill while on the plane. Seated next to me was a physician from Turkey. He offered compassionate advice that helped my family member feel better. He and I then spent the next two hours of our flight talking about his life as a secular Muslim in Turkey and my life as a pastor in Massachusetts. We exchanged our email address to continue the conversation.

I also enjoy getting to know my neighbors who are homeless. The church I serve provides meals several times a week to neighbors on the streets or who simply want company. This past week I talked fishing with a few men who worked in the fishing industry in Gloucester and now are on the streets. I learned much from these men and now when we see each other in our shared neighborhood we know each other’s name and greet each other as friends.

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To often we separate ourselves from one another. It is easy to pre-judge the other without knowing their story. Barbara Brown Taylor in her book, ‘An Altar in the World’, believes that encountering others is a spiritual practice. It is this practice that leads us from fear to freedom, from ignorance to knowledge, from resentment to friendship. How to start? Start with ‘hello’.

High School Reunion and the Art of Growing Younger

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Friday my high school class gathered. It was our 40th reunion and having recently moved back to the area I was savoring the chance to reconnect.

A group of seven friends, all men gathered prior to the reunion for a ‘beverage of choice’. Our wives had been largely uninterested in accompanying us and truth be told it was a time for the ‘boy’ in each of us to play.

In deference to our growing up in Rhode Island we hoisted a Narragansett Beer and toasted our friendship. We remembered our great friend Larry who succumbed to cancer a year ago and who was with us in spirit. We looked around our circle and gave thanks for the gift of being together.

At this age we no longer have much to prove, to ourselves or others. Several of us have stayed close friends over the years, we’ve attended each others wedding, laid to rest parents, celebrated births and watched each others children grow up. We’ve walked with each other through health issues and a few divorces.

We’ve lived long enough to know that friendship, particularly those with some mileage on the odometer are not to be taken for granted. So we toasted each other, re-told old stories and made plans for future adventures.

In one of my favorite films, ‘Waking Ned Devine’, two elderly men are looking back on their friendship, one character named Jackie says: “When we laughed together we grew younger.” On the night of our reunion we toasted one another and marveled at how quickly the years have gone. We shared hopes and plans for the next chapter in our lives. And as we laughed together we watched an amazing transformation, at least for a moment, we grew younger.

A Life Well Lived

Today I learned that a childhood friend had died.  Larry Mills was a big man in size and in character.  My most vivid memories with Larry took place while skiing in New Hampshire or Colorado.   Larry was a large man who moved down the mountain with athleticism and grace.

Larry had a playful personality and made me laugh.  In the beautiful movie ‘Waking Ned Devine’, an elderly man reflects upon the passing of a dear friend, he says:  “We grew old together.  But when we laughed, we grew younger.  If he were here today I would say, thank you for being a great man, and thank you for being a friend.” 

This summer I was at a reunion of friends from High School.   We gathered at our friend Clyde’s yard on a sultry summer evening.  We had a few beers and laughed as we did in school.   It was a poignant night for we had all lived long enough to know that such moments are fleeting and that life itself is a gift to be savored.

Larry was at the reunion and had been dealing with cancer for several months.  That night he was feeling good.   As always with Larry he made us laugh.  In his playful company we all grew younger.

In his 57 years Larry became a great man.  Great in his love for Sue his wife, children and extended family.  Great in the professionalism and integrity he brought to his work.  Great in his commitment to the well-being of his local community.  Great in his faith in God.  Great in being a friend.

Thank you Larry for a life well lived.  We will be forever in your debt.