Four and two fifths make seven

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SLEEPOVERS? REALLY?

Guys don’t do sleepovers. Or so I thought reading A Plan this morning . . . until I stopped to think.

Four (4) ‘Old Dogs’ (seminary classmates who have maintained friendship through the years) do five-night sleepovers every year. Once there were seven (7). Now there are four (4).

Photograph of four 'Old Dogs' with holding a picture of Wayne Boulton.
Four ‘Old Dogs’ (L to R): Harry, Gordon, Don, Bob, with photograph of Wayne (RIP).

THE ‘GATHERINGS’

We arrive at the annual ‘Gatherings’ limping on replaced knees with hips and memories in need of repair, bearing matches to light the fire, a Book of Common Prayer, and a Fifth or two . . . to make four equal seven again.

There’s nothing like a sleepover celebration with old friends. Some are confident that the departed — Wayne, Steve, and Dale — are still with us around the fire. Others need the help of a Fifth or a few Seven-and-Sevens to get four to equal seven.

Original ‘Chicago Seven’ Gathering (L to R): Old Dogs Wayne Boulton, Harry Strong, Yours Truly, Steve Shoemaker, Dale Hartwig, Don Dempsey, Bob Young.

What I had come to know (by feeling only) was that the [GATHERING]’s true being, you might say, was a sort of current, like an underground flow of water, except that the flowing was in all directions and yet did not flow away. When it rose into your heart and throat, you felt joy and sorrow at the same time, and the joining of times and lives. To come into the presence of the [Gathering] was to know life and death, and to be near in all your thoughts to laughter and to tears.

Wendell Berry, “A Gathering,” Jayber Crow, p. 205-206.

Thanks to Beth of ‘I didn’t get my glasses on‘ for turning Gatherings into sleepover celebrations.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 23, 2019.

The Surrogate Voice

Some moments last a lifetime.

Chicago Seven - Dale Hartwig in red shirt

My friend Dale has Parkinson’s. He has boarded a train in Michigan (he’s now in a long-term care center there) to be with “The Chicago Seven” – the seven former classmates who gather annually at McCormick Theological Seminary. This year, Dale’s speech is hard to comprehend. He is reduced to listening. Death and dying are sitting at the table.At the morning reflection and round-table sharing, Dale is sitting to my right. When his turn comes, we look at Dale. There is an awkward silence. He hands me something. He wants me to read aloud what he’s written. I read his words aloud.

Gordon C. Stewart  – written in thanksgiving for the Chicago Gathering, 2004:

“THE SURROGATE VOICE”

The surrogate voice reads on,

the author sits and sobs

wrenching tears from primal depth:

from some abyss of joy or nothingness…or both.

The author’s sighs and piercing sobs

arrest routine,

invoke a hush,

dumb-found the wordy room.

He cannot speak,

his Parkinsons’ tongue tied,

his voice is mute, in solitude confined,

all but sobs too deep for words.

Another now becomes his  voice

offering aloud in a dummy’s voice

the muted contribution

in poetic verse the ventriloquist’s voice has penned.

The abyss of muted isolation ope’d,

his words, re-voiced aloud,

hush the seven to sacred silence,  all…

except from him, their author.

Whence comes this primal cry:

From depths of deep despair and death,

from loneliness, or depths of joy

We do not know.

The surrogate voice reads on

through author’s signs and sobs,

through his uncertain gasps for air

and our uncertain care.

The iron prison gates – the guards

of his despair – unlock and open out

to turn his tears from prison’s hole

to tears of comrade joy.

His word is spoken, his voice is heard,

a word expressed

in depth and Primal Blessing,

pardoned from the voiceless hell.

The stone rolls back,

rolls back, rolls back,

from the brother’s prison’s tomb,

the chains of sadness snap and break!

At one, at one, we Seven stand,

in Primal Silence before the open tomb,

as tears of loss, of gain, of tongues released

re-Voice unbroken chords of brotherhood.

 All moments are sacred. Some last a lifetime.