Taking Leave

For today’s meeting of Water From the Rock, the six-session writing journey I’m offering at Centre Church in Brattleboro, we focused on leave-taking. I brought in a powerful, poignant meditation written by Laura Hegfield, whose blog,  http://www.shinethedivinecreativityisaspiritualpractice.com/  is a treasure trove of luminous words and photographs. She begins, “You are standing on the edge: the sea of reeds before you, the army of Pharaoh behind. You do not know how to swim,” and concludes, “There is nowhere else to go. You close your eyes and step into the sea…You remember God. God remembers you. The waters part and the people are free to cross because you took the first step.”

We wrote in response and then shared experiences of departures: difficult ones from places we loved to places we did not. We spoke of the capacity to find meaning retrospectively: to understand the value of having to uproot, to tap into the lessons even the gifts of disruption. Then the conversation turned to courage. I  mentioned that I lack the kind of bravery required to reach the edge first. I would hang back. One of the participants referred to the last phrase: people are free to cross because you took the first step.

What step would that be she wondered? Nothing came to mind until suddenly I thought of Sue Baker. A few weeks into my ministry in Ontario, Sue asked if I made hospital visits. I responded affirmatively and asked if there was someone who wanted a visit. The hush of her Me landed the way snow catches on a branch. I visited her in the hospital and back at home, getting acquainted in those quiet conversations freed of the superfluous. The cancer progressed. On the cusp of summer she moved into a room in the palliative care ward. Each day I would stop by to say hello, to touch her hand, to sit with her for a while. Nothing dramatic happened in those moments. I might get her ice chips or one of those little square sponges on a lollipop stick designed to ease dry mouth—what transpired was bearing witness and being present. Rather like turning the pianist’s pages as she plays.

When my summer vacation neared, Sue insisted I go to New Hampshire as planned. She knew I would return to conduct her service but she assured me she would rest easier if I went. “You’ve made my dying easier,” she said. And in that dayenu moment I understood that if I had only come to London, Ontario for that, it was enough. Leaving New England had been so hard, wrenching really, but what Sue told me made the leave-taking profoundly worthwhile.

This afternoon as I revisited the closing line of the meditation: people are free to cross because you took the first step—I let in the possibility that the first step I took was the yes that may have allowed Sue to cross less burdened if not unfettered.

Not every first step appears to be that. Sometimes a yes is just a yes. Other times it’s the onset of taking leave—and astonishingly enough, it can lead to the blessing of accompaniment.

Harold’s birthday

My brother would have been sixty today. Though I was the younger sister by almost five years, I am fifty-five—and he is naught. As much as I want to write something fresh today to capture the feelings I am simply too sad so I am posting a poem I wrote in 1992 after listening over and over to my dear friend Sarah Bauhan’s lament for her mother, Elizabeth Anne Forbes, played on Sarah’s low A whistle. I can only hope on this sunny March day, he is laughing.

Revisiting the fields of promise, listening

to Harold

If I could write to you

what would I say?

This lament is for me

driving home tonight

in my silver sports car,

not so unlike you,

wanting for one moment to sail

out there, over the film of fear

that settles like dew on the promise of green.


Heading off to college, wise beyond your time,

you left me

holding the gifts: a keen eye, an open heart, a quick mind

passed them to the child who donned your gravity

as surely as your oxford cloth shirts,


poised    on the cusp    the world wide open


and you sailed into that tree

in one stunning moment,

it was over;


you were free, high above the fields of promise.


I used to cringe at the thought of your terror

the moment you lost control

but tonight the wind whispers your relief,

the exhilaration of letting go.


The wallet was still damp in our mother’s hands

long after the firemen extinguished the flames,

you floating across darkness

pulling indigo from the sky,

head thrown back in laughter

released from the prospects of what you could do,


long gusts across morning

high above the fields of wildflowers blooming

you beckon me to dream myself into waves

of color that dance with you


who I followed everywhere.

This time I stay

behind to listen, at long last

to the peals of your laughter, travelling

through the whistle that carries the wind.