Wilmot United Church, summer 2007
Feet on ground
Heart in hand
Heart in hand
Feet on ground
just be yourself
just be yourself
Jann Arden, Good Mother
There are days when we have it all planned out and then there are days when we chuck the plans and go another route only to find a random harmony unfold as it should. One door closes and another opens, only because we are open to the possibility of it happening.
Last Sunday, a dear friend of mine had her day all planned out. Or so she thought. Mary, a dedicated runner, had intended to take part in an organized run from Base Gagetown to Fredericton in the morning, but decided instead to attend a church service with her husband and to run on her own later in the day. It was a much needed time out of the busy task oriented schedule Mary keeps. Most days, this woman completes more tasks before you and I have taken a sip from our second cup of coffee. Always efficiently and effectively juggling a host of events and encounters in and around the community as a major part of the work she does as a Community Development Coordinator and member of our fair city, Mary knew she needed a breather. She has learned that running both physically emotionally, and spiritually always requires a cooling down as a means of recharging and reflecting.
The topic for the sermon yesterday intrigued Mary as well as reinforced a core personal belief she has always strived to maintain. As an open door kind of person, she lives, works and thrives in an atmosphere of making connections with others. She nurtures the important relationships in her life, and in kind she continues to feel blessed with the love and belonging which is returned to her. She's learned over the years of working in the frontlines with people in need as well that in order to maintain this harmony, she has to find it for herself as well. She has to keep the door open to responding to her own needs. Consequently, Mary knew instantly that attending that church service surrounded by a welcoming community, being with her husband, listening to the message provided by the Minister helped her begin to re-establish her footing for the upcoming busy week.
"Pay mind to your own life, your own health, and wholeness," writes Frederick Buechner. "A bleeding heart is of no help to anyone if it bleeds to death." Sometimes it's important to stop and get off the busy footpath in order to register the importance of living in the moment while catching your breath. To paraphrase Jann Arden's song, It's what keeps your feet on the ground, your heart in your hand. It's what allows you to continue to look forward.
At the same time that the service was beginning, another woman in the city named Noreen decided to attend to her task that morning. She takes care of a large older home that has been converted into an upscale Bed and Breakfast. It is her responsbility to ensure its cleaned and ready for guests. Knowing that new guests were arriving that evening, she set out on her own from her home just down the street to spruce up the attic room which recently been occupied.
Unbeknownst to everyone, including her own family, Noreen found herself trapped. The door to the attic room closed and locked shut behind her. This had never happened before. Not only did she not have her cellphone with her, she didn't have the old skeleton key to unlock the door. So, there she was.............alone in the old house which sits on a quiet cul de sac, away from much traffic or pedestians. Instead of completely flipping out over her situation, Noreen continued straightening up the room believing someone would find her. At some point she decided to take a nap to pass the time when this would happen.
Later that day, after a nice lunch and a leisurely afternoon at home following the church service, Mary pulled on her running gear and headed out the door. Her plan was to run for 30 minutes along the streets of the downtown neighbourhood. With her headset on to her favourite tunes, and a headband over top to keep her ears protected from the cold winter day, she set off at her own pace, enjoying the sun, enjoying her time by herself away from the hustle.
The streets were pretty well deserted of cars and pedestrians, which wasn't unusual given the temperatures outside and the icy uneven terrain for doing any exercise. Plus, it was late afternoon.........a time on Sundays when most people are inside preparing for dinner and the week ahead. It was a treat, therefore to bump into the Minister of her church who was also out jogging. They had a brief chat about the day, the sermon, and the pursuit of jogging and then set off in opposite directions. As Mary expressed to me later, that she felt a sense of integrated happiness of living "in the moment."
Meanwhile, Noreen had awoken from her nap, realized how long she had been trapped and began to worry about whether or not someone in her family was wondering what had happened to her and would figure out where she was. Her anxiety increased..............she looked out the attic window situated in the back of the house to see if anyone happened to be passing by. Given that the street is only home to 4 or 5 other houses, her worries were more than legitimate. Mid February Sunday afternoon activity is non existant. Quiet stillness is more the reality. Well, except for the sound of one person running.
Mary had checked her watch.....and realized she needed to tack on two minutes to her run so that she would reach home at exactly the 30 minutes she intended. As she was about to pass a cul de sac that had a beautiful yellow house on it that she had always loved, she decided to add this little sidestep onto her path. She normally would never run down this dead end street, but she calculated that it would take exactly the right amount of time she needed. Plus, she thought, she'd get to have a glimpse up close of the admired yellow house. So, down she went.
On her way back, she could feel her head clearing........reflecting on the day, the sermon, the encounter she had with her daughter that morning..........on the change of plans and on how glad she had changed her plans, Mary felt a sense of being in the moment again. Her usual lists of "to do's" was far away. Instead, she focused on the music coming from her headphones and on the enjoyment she was feeling from the freedom of running, while listening to Jann Arden's The Good Mother. Somehow, through all of that she was still able to hear a person yelling out for help............
At first, Mary wondered if the cries for help were a part of the music she was listening to, but quickly realized it wasn't. She stopped and began to look around in a disoriented fashion...... wondering where the voice was coming from."Help!" Mary looked up and spotted a woman leaning out of an attic window in the old Mansion turned Inn yelling and waving at her......
"Can you help me? I've locked myself in and I cant get out!"
Mary raced over to the front door and found it locked as well and then ran to the back service entry, opened the door and ran up the stairs. Noreen told her to try to find the skeleton key in the buffet located on the main floor by the front door. So, Mary headed back down the stairs in search of elusive key that would free Noreen. She found some and tried them with no luck. Up and down the stairs Mary went looking in various spots throughout the main floor of the empty house all the while reassuring Noreen and exclaiming how she had never run down that little street before and asking for details about Noreen and about her day locked in the attic. In the middle of this unfolding scene, two women were working together openly sharing information about themselves and about their separate days. They had been oddly thrown together because two people changed their original plans that morning.
Mary had no luck opening the door. She tried to take the hinges off, but didn't have the tools needed. Noreen then suggested calling her husband who had been out doing errands himself that day completely oblivious to his wife's predicament, to help deal with the situation. Within two minutes, Noreen's husband had arrived laughing at the scene he walked into. He thanked Mary and reassured his wife that he would be able to get the door open.
After making sure she wasn't needed anymore and swapping names and phone numbers Mary left them to their task and headed off to complete the last 15 minutes of her run. This time, however, she jogged along lost in the amazement of how life can unfold in a sense of random harmony, of how unplanned circumstances can bring together new connections if one is open to them, of how wonderfully surprising life can be if you allow it to be, of how sometimes the message in a sermon can breezily slip out the church doors without much effort.
You just never know.
Christchurch Cathedral, open doors, summer 2007
PS. The title of the sermon that morning? "Why God made hinges." These two women have since spoken on the phone. Noreen is safe and sound in her own home, aware of the random harmony of how their days unfolded because God made hinges......to our hearts and to the doors in our communities. She told Mary that she's thinking about attending church next Sunday.
"Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else's skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too." Frederick Buechner