Two generous hearts, taking leave

“There are moments when the heart is generous, and then it knows that for better or worse our lives are woven together here, one with one another and with the place and all the living things.”
― Wendell Berry, “Jayber Crow: A Novel”

My husband and I worship each week in a place where our lives are woven together with some pretty remarkable people. Two of those, our pastor and his wife, are leaving us in a few weeks. It’s for a good cause. The Rev. Doug Hahn was elected Aug. 18 to be the new bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Lexington, Ky. We couldn’t be more proud, or more excited for them and their new friends and adventures, but also incredibly sad.

The Hahns have been in Columbus since 1999. Michael and I joined St. Thomas in 2003.

Let’s just say I’ve gone through some Kleenex already. We count Doug and Kaye as dear friends.

Certainly I’ve been reminiscing about Doug’s many gifts to me, and Michael, through the years. I think especially of his stellar preaching and his gifts of pastoral care. It’s a great comfort to know he will come to you in the middle of the night, if called upon.

I think about the time he came to the vet’s office when we had to put our first cat down. He read a poem and we prayed before the vet did her thing. He cried with us. Doug and Kaye spent some crucial moments with us in 2010 when my dad was undergoing emergency surgery at the hospital where I now work.

In the last year, when I was wrestling with a big decision, a single word in Doug’s sermon helped seal the deal. “Fly,” he said.

I think of Doug’s outreach, and our church’s outreach, to persons of other faith traditions. Before we were officially part of St. Thomas, the church and a Jewish temple and a Muslim mosque pitched in to build a Habitat for Humanity house. When it was finished, members of the three traditions enjoyed a meal in the parish hall.

I think of his tender but strong style in times of conflict. No matter how protracted or ugly the tension, he basically says: Everyone belongs. Everyone has a place at the table, and a voice.

I also think of those times when Doug has been vulnerable to us. He is an incredibly human person–accessible, funny, warm, open and one of us, except with a clerical collar. (You might say, “but everyone’s human!” While factually true, I have known too many clergy who try to be above it all.) I have never gotten the sense that Doug, aka “Padre,” is above anyone. He knows what it means to suffer and struggle. He has been transparent–not overly so, venting his spleen as if on Dr. Phil–but appropriately divulging when he feels he can. Last year he faced cancer. He was afraid. He invited people in. He survived.

Kaye is a nurse practitioner. Now she works at a doctor’s office but has also worked on a mobile unit for the underserved and uninsured, and at a children’s home. She, too, is a beautiful person and friend.

It is a great risk to love. It’s worth it, of course, but risky. Grief floods in at times like this. It hurts. That will continue for me, and Michael, and our lovely church, and for the Hahns. They are leaving a huge imprint on this community, and I’ll be forever grateful that we crossed paths.

By the way, Wendell Berry lives in Kentucky. Maybe Doug and Kaye can meet him. The poet-farmer, as well as my priest, teach me that generous hearts beat best when they are open and woven, one with another.

P.S. A Choral Evensong in honor of the Hahns is 5 p.m. Sept. 16. That will be their last Sunday. A reception will follow. Y’all come!

Ode to Sara

I read how politicians are spending millions upon millions of dollars basically to beat each other up, to garner more power, or keep power, and I think of Sara Owen, one of the most powerful people I have ever known. She was my mother-in-law and she died seven years ago this month. She was 85.

Increasingly hunched over due to effects from polio then post-polio, Sara used a motorized scooter to get around in her last years. Her eyes shown bright. Her smile was radiant. If she suffered physical pain, I never heard of it. She had this inner strength that could match, or outmatch, those we typically think of as powerful.

Once there was a tense disagreement among some family members. All she said was: “Perhaps there’s been a misunderstanding.” That was her brilliant way of cussing people out.

I felt welcomed into her life immediately. We liked many of the same authors. There was no judgment from her. And, of course, we shared a great love for Michael, her younger son.

In the late ’50s and ’60s, when the civil rights movement was brewing in Atlanta and elsewhere, she went to work. Sara journeyed from her Atlanta home to Atlanta’s south side for various outreach projects. It came with some risk, this love for people many whites maligned. She and Michael’s dad lost friends because of it. But they soldiered on to make their little corner of the world more just.

(An aside: Michael went to public school for a time with Marty and Dexter King. When the King boys showed up, the white coaches thought they’d hit the lottery. But, like their father, they were intellectuals, not would-be sports stars.)

Post-polio wasn’t her only health problem. Sara had, then survived, cancer. After her second mastectomy, she said: “Well, they can’t do that to me again.”

She was brave even near death. She was taken to the hospital a couple of times when her blood-oxygen levels would dip precipitously. Before it could happen again, she told her nurse she wasn’t going back to the hospital. She was done.

“I’m sad you didn’t get to know us earlier in our lives,” she told me once.
“Yes,” I said, “but the great thing is I got to meet you in the first place.”