You CAN go home again

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Thomas Wolfe had it right. “You can’t go home again.” But he was only half right. Memory is the gauge of the deepest affections that feel like home. For 11 years Knox Church in Cincinnati was my spiritual home. That was 25 years ago (1983-1994), but by memory and affection, it was yesterday. Calendars and clocks mean nothing to the time of the heart.

Preparing for the visit, I recalled Charlie Chaplin‘s surprise when he reportedly entered a Charlie Chaplin Look-Alike Contest in Monte Carlo and came in third. Would I come in third in my own look-alike contest? Whose faces would I recognize after all these years? Would they recognize me? Would my slow pace and weathered face contradict memory’s sense of home-coming?

Back at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Airport (MSP), a golf cart driver who assists less abled passengers had given me a ride to the farthest gate of Concourse E. “Where you headed?” he’d asked. “Gate so-and so, Terminal E,” I answered. “Hop on. You’d never been able to walk that far,” he said with a smile, and began to weave through the pedestrian passengers down the interminable corridor to the last gate of Concourse E.

Knox members Bob and Connie had been assigned to welcome home their old friend at baggage claim. At the Cincinnati Airport, there was not a golf cart in sight for passengers with a bad back or hips. Limping along the long concourse toward baggage claim, the story of Charlie in Monte Carlo lightened my load.

Tired and sore from the second long walk, I spotted a man on a balcony looking down at the arriving passengers. By the time I came into his view, the other passengers from Delta Flight 5277 had come and gone. The Bob I knew years ago was immaculately dressed — gray suit, white shirt and tie, and a well-polished pair of Allen Edmonds. The man on the balcony was casually dressed in a polo shirt and khakis. As I drew closer, I looked up; he looked down. I squinted. He squinted. After a closer look, visions of Simon and Garfunkel singing “Old Friends” danced in my head. I waved to Bob. Bob waved to me, two old retired friends together again after 25 years.

Walking to the car, I noticed something unusual. Bob was wearing my shoes! I’d had my mousy-looking Ecco walking shoes for five years. Never, never, never had I seen them on someone else’s feet. They’re ugly, and as far from Allen Edmonds as my Gate was from baggage claim! “Most comfortable shoe I’ve ever worn,” said Bob.


After all these years, Knox fit like an old shoe. Thomas Wolfe never had it so good. Thomas Wolfe never flew home to Cincinnati!

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, February 11, 2019.

Going home without my burden

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Some things are too close. Too personal. As Leonard Cohen put it in his songs Going Home and If It Be Your Will, my best friend over the past 55 years has “gone home without his burden, [gone] home behind the curtain without the costume that he wore.”

Wayne Granberry Boulton — click HERE for the obituary — died peacefully at home in Indianapolis under the tender care of the love of his life — his one and only wife — and their older son Matthew (Matt).

The costumes Wayne wore were academic (Duke Ph.D.) and ecclesiastical (McCormick Theological Seminary M.Div.) robes, but these costumes were faint glimpses into his underlying character.

Harry Strong, Vicki Boulton, Wayne Boulton, Gordon, Nadja Shoemaker, Steve Shoemaker (seated), Divide CO, 2006

Knowing the hospice drugs soon would ease him into wherever people go at the end of life, I visited Wayne and Vicki, Matt and Chris and all the Boulton family in Indianapolis two weeks ago. Wayne’s mind was still clear and sharp. His heart, which was always big, without ever being sloppy, was closer to his sleeve.

If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for
If it be your will [Leonard Cohen, If It Be Your Will]

“Hi, my name’s Wayne Boulton,” said the new roommate in 1964, where we had been assigned to Alumni Hall Room 312 by the housing office at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. Although he had arrived hours before my key opened the door, he had not yet chosen which of the two beds, desks, and dressers would be his. That was the first clue that my roommate was un-selfish.

We were roommates for two years until he exchanged vows with Vicki in 1966. I was to be Wayne’s Best Man, but that was before the Chicago Chapter of the Experiment in International Living sent me packing to Czechoslovakia that summer, reducing my status to “would-have-been/ could-have-been/ should have been” Wayne’s Best-Man. When I returned to the States, Vicki had become the roommate to whom he had pledged his troth.

If it be your will
That a voice be true

Wayne’s word was his bond. He was loyal. Honoring his family and friends came second only to honoring the First Commandment to have no other gods but I AM. Wayne knew that we are covenantal creatures whose joy is found in steadfast love, a voice that is true to itself. Wayne did not sing of himself. Self-promotion was not his thing. Close to being fitted for the MBA costume of Northwestern University’s School of Business, he left the fitting room to prepare for a different robe in service to the church and the academy.

From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing

It was during the Lafayette College choir concert at Westbury High School that Wayne and Vicki met. The love at first sight led to the births of Matthew and Christopher, and stayed fresh until there were no more costumes. What began with the twinkling of an eye ended the same way — with thanksgiving washed by tears.

Going home
Without my sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow
Going home
where it’s better
Than before

No compassionate person would wish that a loved one with terminal pancreatic cancer continue to wear the patient’s costume. “I’m dying,” he wrote to the members of the wide circle of friends he had gathered. Former students, faculty colleagues, and neighbors in Holland, Michigan and in Richmond, Virginia;  members of the churches he’d served in Maryland, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, and the  latest friends in Indianapolis. He embraced the coming end of life, neither denying death’s finality nor betraying his deepest conviction: “in life and in death, we belong to God.”

Going home
Without my burden
Going home
Behind the curtain
Going home
Without this costume
That I wore. [Leonard Cohen]

The loss of of a best friend hits hard, no matter how much we expected it. “Hey, Roomie” was the way he began our phone calls. Choking through the tears on this side of the curtain, I give thanks that my roommate has “gone home/Without [his] burden/Behind the curtain/Without the costume/That [he] wore,” and pray against all my doubts, that some other strangers may be greeted the way I was:

“Hi, my name’s Wayne Boulton.”

Wayne wearing Chicago Dogs shirt in honor of seminary friends who call ourselves “The Dogs”

And draw us near
And bind us tight
All your children here
In their rags of light
In our rags of light
All dressed to kill
And end this night
If it be your will

If it be your will [Leonard Cohen, If It Be Your Will]

— Gordon C. Stewart, one four remaining Dogs “bound tight . . . . in our rags of light,” Chaska, MN, February 4, 2019.

My Dog’s Happy Hour

Barclay smiling

Barclay smiling in the car

There’d been no intention of a Happy Hour yesterday when I decided to go to Target for a short errand. “Barclay,” I asked, “wanna go for a ride in the car?” Barclay cocked his head, ran for the door to the underground garage, and leaped for joy. We drove to Target. I cracked open the windows, left Barclay in the car. In the parking lot, I see my friend Chuck, whom I’d been with an hour earlier on a business matter where I’d asked whether he’d ever been to Ike’s. He hadn’t. “Why do you ask? Is it good?” “I don’t know. I’ve never been there,” I’d said. “My neighbor Michael tells me it has the best Martini in town — not one of those tiny Martinis you get at most places around here. It’s big, and they give you the shaker, too.”

Inside Target, Chuck and I take our places in the line for picking up prescriptions. The line is long. Neither of us is good at waiting. We decide, on the spur of the moment, to go to Ike’s Happy Hour for a different prescription. We leave Target and join Barclay for the trip to Ike’s. At Ike’s I again leave Barclay in the car, opening all four windows a little more than I had at Target. As he always does, Barclay smiles. He knows the routine. He lies down on the driver’s seat.

Sitting at the bar for our nonprescription drugs, we notice the wind has come up and it’s pouring rain outside. “Do you think Barclay’s okay?” asks Chuck. “He’ll be fine,” I say, “nothing flusters him. He’s not afraid of storms.” The Martini is everything Michael had said it would be. So is the Happy Hour food he’d recommended: two mouth-watering beef tenderloin sliders with grilled onions and horseradish sauce, one on pumpernickel, the other on sourdough, for $7.50. We love this place!

We pay the tab and head back to the car. Barclay is calm until Chuck opens the passenger door. Barclay sits up, smothers Chuck with kisses, and says, “I was worried about you guys!” Both seats are partially wet from the storm. Barclay is dry. We are not.

Barclay on chest

Barclay

We leave Ike’s parking lot and drive back to Target where Chuck had left his car. Chuck goes in for his prescription. Barclay and I call it a day and head home. Safe at home in the underground garage, Barclay stays put like a petulant child. “Dad, why can’t I stay in the car? I love Happy Hour!”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 4, 2018

 

 

A Uniquely Grateful Graduate

Some people’s stories are priceless. Austin Wu’s is one of those. Austin shared his last night at Chaska High School’s commencement.

Austin is a neighbor and friend recognized in Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, published in 2017. He will begin his undergraduate studies at Macalester College in September.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 9, 2018.

Tribute to Slowness

Toronto_Star_paperboy_Whitby

Earlier we published “Reflections of a Paper Boy” by 78 yr. old John Miller who still delivers newspapers as he did when he became a paper boy way back when.

John’s reflections struck me as evidence that it’s a good thing a human lifespan is short. No one wants to hear another lament about “the way it was when I was a kid.”

Like my old friend, John, I’m getting long in the tooth. I’m not as quick as I used to be. Much of what I once did I can no longer do.  I no longer wear the catcher’s mask, and i couldn’t make the throw back to the pitcher, let alone to second base to catch a base-stealer. My body won’t cooperate. And the mind? Oh yes, the mind. Never mind!

coffin_memorial

William Sloane Coffin memorial photo

But slowing down has its advantages. Civil rights and peace movement leader William Sloan Coffin. Jr. observed toward the end of his life,

“I find I am less intentional and much more attentional.”

Click HERE for information on Bill Coffin, one of the great spiritual and moral leaders of our time.

‘Attentional’ isn’t in the dictionary but it should be. Paying attention means being where you really are — a very specific place like no other — right now –– not future or past. Attentiveness to mortal things like place and time is soul food for the speed-sick mortal. The slowness of delivering newspapers on a bicycle or on foot seems good for the soul.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 20, 2018.

 

Living on the Edge

An email from Joshi Daniel Photography arrived today, the first anniversary of the publication of 40,000 words. Searching back into the site’s archives, Joshi’s self-portrait “Living on the Edge” seemed to capture the sense of the 40,000 words of Be Still! in one photograph. Joshi and I share a heritage. We are both preacher’s kids who met at The College of Wooster where Joshi was a student. Joshi perched himself on the rock at arms length from my perch on the pulpit of McCaw Chapel. All these years later, Joshi’s still living on the edge with photographs worth a thousand words.

Joshi Daniel Photography

Self-portrait of joshi daniel sitting on the cliff by Bondi beach in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia Self-portrait | Bondi beach, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

A GoProSelf-portrait taken on the cliff by Bondi beach in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

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Seasons Greetings

This Christmas Eve we write to thank you for reading Views from the Edge and to share with our readers this Seasons Greetings letter and photos sent to those nearest and dearest to us.happy-holidays

Dear Friends,

2017 brought into our lives two new grandsons, Elijah (7 mos.) and Calvin (one mo.) and the joy that comes with the innocence of children. Fortunately for us, Kristin (with Elijah), and Andrew and Alice (with Calvin) live 20 minutes from Chaska. We only wish we could shower the same affection on outstate grandkids Jack (17), Amelia (14) KY, and Ruby (4) CA, and sons John (CA) and Doug (NYC, VT) and their spouses, Jen and Jason.

Other notable events?

These two news events have long-lasting importance: 1) Last January’s publication of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (click the link), Gordon’s collection of essays, and 2) August’s moment of temporary insanity when we raided our retirement funds to buy a small four-season A-Frame on a wetland two and a half hours north in Minnesota.

Buying the cabin while we grow closer to buying the farm felt a bit foolish. But, hey, we got the impulse, acted on it, and are loving the simplicity of rough-cut pine, wildlife (trumpeter swans, beaver, deer, skunks, and owls), and total isolation from all electronic distractions. We build a fire in the wood stove, break out a book, write what we feel like writing, take naps, and walk Barclay (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel now 4 yrs. old) down the dirt road to see what’s happening. It’s a simpler life that we savor as novel and precious.

Although Season’s Greetings normally steer clear of things political, we would be untrue to ourselves without commenting on the over-riding fact of daily life since January 20. Elijah calls the president “You-Know-Who” because we refuse to name him except in blog posts of conversations between Elijah and Grandpa about what faith calls for in the face of greed and collective madness. The cover of Be Still! — Vincent van Gogh’s, Prisoners Exercising, painted during his time in Saint-Paul asylum in Saint-Rémy — could not have been better chosen.

We count ourselves among the fortunate who have family and dear friends whose love and kindness keep our spirits focused on justice, mercy, and humility. We are so grateful for your friendship, and wish you and yours the very best of life in the Second Year of the You-Know-Who Era. Fortunately, God’s patience is longer than ours, but, as California Governor Jerry Brown said recently about climate change denial, so is God’s wrath. 😳

In the belief and hope that the cries in the wilderness count and that Love wins,

Seasons Blessings and Happy New Year,

Gordon and Kay

 cabin IMG_6563

Cabin

Andrew and Calvin

Andrew and Calvin

Gordon and Kay

Kay and Gordon

IMG_9456

Cabin wetland

Kristin and E

Kristin and Elijah

  • Gordon and Kay Stewart, Chaska, MN, Dec. 24, 2017.

Sinner, do you have my groceries?

I’d never thought about groceries back in Broomall. We’d drive to the Acme, fill the grocery cart, and bring the bags home. It was just part of daily life. Or so I thought.

groceriesI was 17 the day I learned about groceries in America.

Tony and I had become friends at Pennington Island, the church camp in the Delaware River, after meeting each other on the Saturday several years before when the junior-high youth groups from Marple Presbyterian Church and Berean Presbyterian Church had met during a service project at the Green Street Settlement House.

NLIOn Pennington Island the kids from Philadelphia and the Philadelphia suburbs spent nights together in the same cabins, rose early for “morning watch”, played games, ate the same food at the same tables in the mess hall, swam in the same swimming pool, and sang hymns and spirituals like Jacob’s Ladder. We were living in the same economy while climbing somewhere together.

After the week or two on Pennington Island, the members of his ideal economy would say good-bye and return to the disparate circumstances whose differences we preferred not to know.

Ignorance was bliss. Until the day Tony visited our home in Broomall, 15 miles west of Philadelphia, and watched my mother pull into the driveway with the groceries. My mother spoke of it years later as one of those moments that opened her eyes.

7769907-1955-buick-special-std-cAs we began to unload the groceries from the ’55 Buick, Tony’s eyes grew bigger. There was more than one bag. Never had he seen multiple grocery bags. When the Lewises had a little money, they’d bring home what they needed for the day…or maybe two, on a good day. There were never five, six, seven bags of groceries.

“Sinner, do you love my Jesus,” we had sung in the egalitarian economy of Pennington Island where we were climbing higher together. But unloading the grocery bags that day in Broomall, the difference in groceries seemed more like a symptom of sin – the gulf of separation between two worlds. One home was much “higher” than the other — one white, one black; one privileged, one not — in a black and white economy.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 14, 2017.

 

 

 

Bill in the Waiting Room

cardiac-investigations-for-acute-coronary-syndrome-5-638He sits by himself in the hospital waiting room.

“Where you from?” he asks, welcoming the gowned stranger who’s come for a stress test.

“Chaska,” I answer.

Where?” he asks over the whine from his hearing aids.

I’m not anxious to strike up a conversation. I’m here for a stress test. I’m an introvert. Talking with strangers when I’m going inside to cope with stress is the last thing I want in the waiting room.

“Chaska!” I repeat.

“Oh! I’m from Waconia! I’m Bill.”

He gives a broad smile as though we’re related. (Waconia and Chaska are neighbors in Carver County, MN.)

His gowned wife, fresh off the treadmill, interrupts the flow of the conversation.

“This is my wife, Jane. She’s a lot younger than I am. I’m 96.”

“94,” she the younger wife. “We’ve been together 15 years.”

“Chaska’s the county seat. That’s where i was sworn in.” [Clearly, he’s an extrovert.]

“World War II?”

“February 6, 1942. Eighty of us. A lot of guys from Chaska.”

“Where’d you serve?”

“He was part of D-Day,” answers Jane. Bill’s head sinks toward his lap. His chin begins to quiver. A long pause follows.

“Only 15 of us came back.”

“Were you injured?”

“No,” he says, forming his hands in prayer and looking up. “I don’t know why.” He falls again into silence.

DDay120606121335-d-day-01-horizontal-large-galleryHe’s back on the beach at Normandy.

“That a lot of death. A lot of killing. A lot of loss,” I say.

He looks up and nods before dropping his head again.

Posttraumatic Stress,” I say quietly to Jane. “I’m a pastor. I’ve seen it so many times with Vietnam War and Iraq War veterans.”

“I think so,” she says. “He still can’t talk about it after all these years.”

The technician calls my name. “Mr. Stewart?”

As I leave the waiting room, he reaches up to say good-bye with a firm handshake and friendly smile for the young guy from Chaska.

I get on the treadmill, reminded that there’s stress and there is stress, knowing that mine bears no comparison and thankful for a few moments with 94 year-old who has every reason to think he’s 96.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 27, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five men in a living room

Funny how things come to consciousness slowly over time until, in a flash of light, what should have been obvious all along comes clearly into view.

Learning that “Memorial Day and the Soldier’s Helmet” would not air as expected on Minnesota Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” because of its length, I went back to read it and hear it again over morning coffee.

Hearing the ending again –“three men in a living room — two Americans and on dead Japanese….” — I realized there were more than three. There were five.

Without the influence of the missing two, “Memorial Day and the Soldier’s Helmet” would not have been written. It was as though the pen I had thought was in my hand had been in theirs. They had written the piece.

Who were the missing two?

My American father, the former World War II Army Air Force Chaplain on Saipan, and Kosuke Koyama, the teenage Japanese survivor of the American  firebombing of Tokyo.

My father, the Chaplain, on board ship to Saipan, WW!!. RIP

A father casts a long shadow over a son’s life.

Except for a poem he had written on Saipan about the flames of war lighting the night skies of the South Pacific, Dad didn’t talk about the war. During his 18 years as pastor of the Marple Presbyterian Church in Broomall, Pennsylvania, Korean and Japanese students from Princeton Theological Seminary were frequent weekend guests in our home.

 

Kosuke Koyama – RIP

Kosuke Koyama, who had been a student at Princeton Seminary during my teenage years, came into my life decades later in 1996 when he moved to Minneapolis following his retirement as John D. Rockefeller, Jr Professor of World Christianity at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York.

Might Ko have been a guest in our home way back when?

That my father and Ko might have known each other is a happy thought.

But, whether they occupied the same physical space is not as important as the large space they opened in the inheritor of their influence. Two invisible men in a living room brought the other three together in the bonds of sacred silence and the hope of something better for us all.

Funny thing! If the recording had aired yesterday on “All Things Considered”, I might still be in the dark!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, in honor of Kenneth Campbell Stewart and Kosuke Koyama, May 30, 2017.