The Story of Dick and Dorothy…and Lee

His name was Lee.  He was a quiet man.

He was friendly enough – just not terribly outgoing.

He wasn’t the sort of person who would call attention to himself.

Lee lived across the street from Dick and Dorothy.

Like Lee, Dick and Dorothy didn’t socialize much – not at all in fact.

And their house was quiet – their house was really quiet!  You see, Dick and Dorothy hadn’t spoken to one another in years.  Their only child, Susan, was grown and gone.  Back in those days, divorces were extremely rare.  You lived together “till death do us part” – even if the differences were irreconcilable and the hostile silence was deafening.

Dick and Dorothy had a dog named Trixie.  It was obvious if Trixie needed water.  What was not so obvious was whether or not Trixie had been fed.  So Dick and Dorothy had silently devised a system to clarify this matter without having to speak to one another.   If you fed Trixie, you placed her bowlful of food in a different location in the kitchen than it had been previously.

Dick and Dorothy and Trixie may have invented the progressive dinner.

During January of 1967, there was a terrible blizzard.  Every weekday Dick commuted to and from Chicago – 26 miles one way – and by the time he got home at 6:00 p.m., his driveway was filled with almost two feet of drifted snow!  The car never made it up the gentle grade to the garage.  In fact, it barely made it into the driveway.  The rear end of the car was a traffic hazard in the street.

Lee was watching from his cozy living room as Dick trudged to his garage to fetch a snow shovel.  So Lee did what any good neighbor would do.  He bundled up, grabbed his own shovel, and headed across the street to help his friend.  The wind was howling and the snow was still coming down.

It took them 45 minutes to get Dick’s car to the garage.  After thanking Lee profusely for his help, Dick invited his neighbor into the kitchen to get warm over a cup of coffee.  Dorothy joined them at the kitchen table.

At first, the conversation was awkward.  Lee knew the dynamics of this dysfunctional household.  Dick made a comment.  Lee replied.  Dorothy made a comment.  Lee replied.  This went on for a while.

But then – something happened.  Something changed.  Dorothy made a comment.  And DICK REPLIED.  Then, DOROTHY REPLIED.  Lee had the good sense – or perhaps the divine wisdom – to keep his mouth shut and just wait and see what would happen next.

That was the beginning for Dick and Dorothy.  They began to talk.  They started communicating with one another in other ways than by moving the dog dish.  The healing began. The relationship was renewed.

Lee was the catalyst.  Where there had been hatred – Lee sowed the seed of love.

Lee wasn’t an outspoken champion of peace and justice and reconciliation.

Maybe Lee was just at the right place at the right time.

Was Lee an angel?  Dick and Dorothy’s daughter, Susan, will tell you he was.

I think he was too.  I know I’m proud of him.  Lee was my father.

– Harry Lee Strong, Pastor, United Church of the San Juans in Ridgeway, CO, January 3, 2013. Harry is a dear friend and former classmate, McCormick Theological Seminary Class of ’67. Like frequent contributor Steve Shoemaker, Harry is one of six former classmates who gather annually for a week of fellowship and reflection.

A Visit with Mary

Mary with Maggie

Mary with my dog Maggie

Visiting with a 91-year-old friend with terminal cancer, the discussion turns to her final wishes.  Mary is a child psychologist by profession, a retired professor whose pioneering work with children at the University of Minnesota and Minneapolis’ Children’s Hospital is a legacy that will remain long after she is gone.

Raised in a strict Calvinist Christian tradition in Michigan, her soul long ago had come to drink from gentler wells – the quiet gatherings of the “Quakers,” the naturalist spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi and of American indigenous spiritualities that saw the sacred in the cirrus clouds, the fluttering of a leaf, a chickadee at the bird-feeder on the deck, or the circling of an eagle overhead.

When her husband died three years before, the family gathered privately to inter Doug’s ashes in a small opening in the woods on their farm near Wabasha. Doug, like Mary, is legendary in Minnesota…in a different sort of way…the street lawyer with the pony tail who started and led the Legal Rights Center with leaders of the American Indian Movement (AIM), the chosen intermediary between the federal troops and the AIM members at the Wounded Knee occupation in 1973 – Dennis and Russell Means, Clyde Bellecourt, Leonard Peltier, et. al..

The family marked the spot with four stones pointing North, East, South and West – the “four directions of the four corners of the earth.”  Early the next morning, the day of the public celebration of Doug’s life, one of Doug and Mary’s daughters had walked out to that tiny clearing in the woods. A bald eagle was sitting very still in the center of the four stones above Doug’s ashes.

I asked Mary at the time what she made of that.  With great respect, she paused…and said she didn’t know, and something to the effect that native peoples seem to be in touch with mysteries that elude the rest of us.  er statement struck me at the time because in our talks about death and dying, she had always indicated that she believed that life is lived between the boundaries of birth and death.  The eagle sitting on Doug’s ashes in that tiny opening in the woods didn’t seem to convince her of something beyond the grave, but she held a kind of sacred openness to the possibility, a respectful not-knowing about human destiny, the universe, and our place in it.

Now, three years after Doug’s death, we sit together, as we often have, over a lunch of shrimp, salad and fresh bread at the table that looks out at the bird feeders in the old converted mill on the farm up the hill from Wabasha.  Three of her five children are there.

Missy asks Mary whether she has told me her plans for her service when the end comes. There is a long silence as she goes away to some far off inner place – some wooded glen where no one else can go.  Her eyes are distant, dream-like, looking off to some far off place, sorting through her long spiritual journey to fetch the right words out of the forest of 91 years of memory.

Finally she speaks… softly.  Quietly.  Deliberately. “I want you to do the prayer and I want the benediction.”  “What kind of prayer?” I ask.  She looks at me quizzically, as if I should know.  “Something classical with the gravitas of tradition?”  “Yes,” she says.  “And what kind of benediction?” I ask.  “Blessed are the peacemakers,” she says.  “And music. What about music?”  “Oh, yes” she says, “Bach, Mozart, Beethoven…and ‘Let there be peace on Earth’”… and she wanders off again into that most personal space where no one else can go.

Ninety-one years summed up in four-words “Blessed are the peacemakers” from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

She is growing weary now. It’s time for her afternoon nap.  We say good-bye. I leave this sacred place of Mary’s world, get behind the wheel to drive home, turn on the radio, listen to news that is so far removed from Mary’s world and Jesus’ with all the saber-rattling and the name-calling, and I wish we all could have lunch with Mary or take a walk to the wooded glen where the eagle sat still above Doug’s grave at the center of the four corners of the earth.


For eight years Doug and Mary Hall’s farm was a second home. Mary’s pensive spirit and Doug’s activism made them natural parents of the state-wide movement for restorative justice in Minnesota and the Minnesota Restorative Justice Campaign.

Blessed are the peacemakers. RIP.