I didn't know she was dying. Not, know know, if you know what I mean. I mean, I knew she had been sick but actually thought when I'd been told that, that she had a flu. Still, as I passed by her street I had a sudden thought that I should visit. That should have been a clue.
I hadn't seen her in a while and passed by her house frequently since it was in the neighbourhood. So this sudden thought was unexpected. I didn't listen. Instead I thought of all of the reasons why not, like maybe I didn't have the time and anyways it would be inconsiderate to just stop by unannounced. Not giving credence to the truth that if it was a bad time they would just say so. They would not be polite with me.
She died before I saw her again. That was the first time.
The second time I was on my way to meet a friend for lunch. As I passed by the church I noticed his car. And I remember thinking I should take a minute and stop and say hello. I knew he was there working on the renovations.
But I convinced myself that I should not be late for my luncheon date. So I passed by. And then, and this is the even worse part, I was stood up. My friend had forgotten of our plan and didn't show up. When I called her, it was too late. Lunch wasn't going to happen. When I drove past the church going the other direction I noticed his car still there. And I remember thinking that I should stop and say hello and now I had no excuse. Except I was hungry and a bit peeved at my friend. And I had no reason to think I would not see him again. So I ignored what in retrospect was much more than I nudge.
And then he died. It was an accident. We held his funeral on the same day that he had originally planned to have his 60th birthday party which I had planned to attend.
Of course their deaths have nothing to do with me. But I am still haunted by my not listening, not following my gut, not heeding the message to act. And instead letting my ego, my laziness, my not wanting to put myself out, to convince me to pass by the moment.
And now that I'm on this topic I think of one more time. Recent. Perhaps too recent to be retrospective, the sting still acute. I'm walking across the street to my car and notice an elderly man down the block, not far down, and he's turned to look at me as I leave my parents' house. It doesn't register until I'm in my car that I know him. And I recall a snippet of a conversation about neighbours from the old 'hood, an invitation for supper with mutual friends, something like that. It's not really too late. Even though he's carried on down the street I could have got out of my car and gone after him. But I don't. Typically, I'm thinking of where I'm heading and the time and the fact that I'm on the just-barely-enough-time-to-get-there-on-time side. As if that matters.
And the next I hear of him he has died and once again I am filled with regret. I am asked to preside at his service, which, of course, I am glad and honoured to do.
These are, of course, only the ones that I know about. There may be other missed opportunities, missed moments that I don't know. These are just the times I know I didn't heed God's call, God's invitation and the paths closed.
I know, intellectually, and in my heart, that there are plenty of times I said yes and it was good. Or not, it really doesn't matter. Only that I heeded and the lack of specific memory about them equals the lack of regret. Tolstoy's three questions take on a sharp acuity.
As I head into presiding at my third funeral in five days, I wonder if this is God giving me a small opportunity to make amends. In hosting closure and comfort for families, in some small way I am reclaiming the path I had ignored, the one where I put myself aside and reach out to others. The one where I give of myself. Although I often feel that my ministry call is not to pastoral ministry, maybe this is a moment of opportunity to redeem in some small way what I lost by saying no.
I don't know. But if it is, then thanks be to God.
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