Testament

Testament

by Guest Blogger May 17, 2018 3 Comments

By Claire Asbury Lennox

I moved back to my hometown to go to funerals.

It sounds more morbid than it is.

Five days after Christmas, I attend another. (How many in the three years since I returned? Coleman and Tamara and Bill and Stephen and Jo and Ralph and Tim and Ted and Kent…) My parents, brother and I crowd into the back left row of our congregation’s little chapel—officially and aptly named The Little Chapel.  

The woman we are here to celebrate is a stalwart figure from my childhood, with a daughter and son near my age. They both inherited the playful flash of her eyes, the sassy tilt of her head, laughter I can pick out of a crowd. It is stinging and strange to watch them now, walking together down the too-short aisle, mourning a too-short life, weighed down by the echoing emptiness their kind, witty mother left behind.

But surrounding the void floats something whole.

Large enough to seat just over 70, the Little Chapel feels grand above and humble below. The ornate dome ceiling based on St. Paul’s Cathedral and the jeweled stained glass window showing the wedding at Cana radiate Old World splendor. Solid wood box pews ground the room in the plain heart of human worship, their creaky swinging doors bluntly broadcasting latecomers.

The lack of acoustic forgiveness gives this place energy of a different sort than the massive, red-carpeted sanctuary next door where we hold most Sunday services. The chapel magnifies every sound—not only the squeak of the pews, but the wrench of the heavy wooden double door, the patter of soles on the sleek marble floor, the echo of a cough or a sneeze or a sob. Sunlight surges through the windows at a stronger slant, barely room for it to spread out between the two close columns of seats. Through one set of panes lies the church playground, while outside the other, cars and ambulances wheel and whine down the main road.

Life, on either side of the chapel, and within. Even when we gather due to death.

Before the service starts, with every groan of the double door, I not-so-subtly turn my head. It’s what I do in familiar spaces; I like to see who’s coming in, if their face will alight a memory in me. Funerals bring folks out from the woodwork, from all parts of a person’s life, the lives of their loved ones. And when your journey has intertwined with theirs even for a season, when you are part of the community left behind to celebrate someone’s meaning on earth, you begin to follow the thread of abundance in your own life.

On this bright midwinter morning, face after face shines with familiarity, including several people who have not crossed my view in years. Whether or not we are currently connected doesn’t matter; even if we knew each other best at 15, that is enough.

It is enough because I can glimpse my own foundations in their eyes, long ago inside jokes etched into their dimples.

It is enough because we knew one another long before we knew many of the people who now fill our adulthood days, knowledge that carries a depth we cannot shake.

The days and years we spent side by side signaled our earliest moments of forming and transforming, within spaces of self both hidden and known.

A truth buried under layers of everyday life rises to the surface when our faces meet as grown-ups: Once upon a time, we helped each other find ourselves, figure out who we wanted to be—or didn’t.

As we sing, I recall harmonies around the heat of campfires, the sparkling bells of a creek in the distance. As we pray, I think back to worshiping together in the midst of questions and doubt. As I listen to my friends tell stories of their mother, I give thanks for the gift of collective memory, the knowledge that her name and light and laughter will live on in us. And through my mourning, I look around at everyone gathered and marvel at how we were once so much a part of each other’s worlds.

Hopes and fears, turns both planned and unexpected, have led us in countless different directions. We are not the same as when we began together. When we depart from these pews, we will continue to change. But something about the path back to this place is ingrained in our psyches and souls. Just like our need to support those who made it matter for us in the first place.

“She’s not here anymore,” my friend tells us. “But you all are.”

I moved back to my hometown to go to funerals.

It sounds more morbid than it is.

In truth, it is a testament to life.

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Claire Asbury Lennox is a writer and editor working in theological education. She majored in English at Davidson College (and minored in watching a guy named Stephen Curry play ball) and earned her MFA from Goddard College with a concentration in creative nonfiction. Whether Claire’s writing, reading, or watching Parks & Recreation, a mug of hot tea is always within reach. She lives in Atlanta with her husband Sean and their black lab, Lucy. Read more of Claire’s writing at www.claireasburylennox.com.

 

Hey, you might like Coming Together: On Neighbors, Fences, and Moments

 

 

Photo by Daniel McCullough on Unsplash




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3 Responses

Amy B. B.
Amy B. B.

May 21, 2018

This is beautiful and oh, so true. I’m so grateful for the people who are bound to me over a lifetime of living (mostly in the same place). What a wonderful tribute to lives well-lived and to the sacred spaces where we come together.

Yajaira
Yajaira

May 18, 2018

This… This read like a song to me. What a treat!

Beverly Jeanne Armento
Beverly Jeanne Armento

May 18, 2018

Such a lovely piece, Claire. A tribute to our former selves, our current lives. Beautiful.

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