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.