Thursday, April 23, 2009

Even Less Than an Empty Tomb

NOTE TO SELF:  Keep up with your lock box keys.  

We received notice a couple of months ago at the church that our bank lock box was up for renewal.  "What lock box?" we asked.  
"Box 455 at the Urbandale Branch" was the answer -- clear across town. 

After several weeks of archeological desk and file expeditions, we concluded that no key was to be found, no knowledge was to be gained about possible contents, and I turned out to be one of only two signators.  With no alternative in hand, a date was set with the locksmith to gain admission the old fashioned way:  a drill.  Yesterday was that date.

On a side note, let me observe that lock box locks turn
 out to be fascinating engineering.  Required were a power drill, a special threaded stem, a metal jig of some sort, a plastic outer attachment, two different wrenches turned by hand simultaneously in the opposite direction, patience (when the stem breaks several times) and ultimately a uniquely bent probe that is inserted around the now loosened mechanism that apparently fishes for some interior and, again apparently, elusive release.  Having already received his sympathy extended to me ("You would be surprised how often this happens..."), I now felt sympathy for him.  It can't be easy to concentrate on the intricate task at hand while an impatient bank representative and a befuddled customer are watching over your shoulder.

Finally, however, the deed was done -- the birth waters were ruptured -- and the baby was placed gingerly in my hands.  I was surprised by the size of the thing.  Hardly the little 3 X 5 inch box I was expecting, but a large one, akin to the junk drawer in our kitchen, only escalating my intrigue.  What could be in it?  The box technically belonged to our endowment fund, so surely it held long-forgotten stock certificates or gold bars or deeds to property now worth a fortune.  I remembered Geraldo Rivera's dramatic and televised opening of Al Capone's vault and I wondered if I should have called the TV station.  Though now in my hands and feeling surprisingly light, I knew that beneath that lid could be almost anything...

...or, as turned out, nothing.  Well, not literally nothing.  Inside was a single envelope -- aged and brown -- with a single notation:  "1974 Restated Articles of Incorporation."  

That's it.  Big box.  Big hassle.  Big expense (drilling doesn't come cheap).  Big let down.  A few sheets of paper I have to believe could be requested from the State should the need arise.  Big deal.

It felt sort of like an Easter cartoon on the Comedy Channel, and I was playing the part of Mary Magdalene.  At least when she visited what turned out to be an empty vault she got to see an angel.  I was stuck with Matt, the banker, and the lock smith shaking their heads at the utter waste of time of it all.  Ditto. 


Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Stomach Knows Best

My family and friends have playfully enjoyed making sport of me since reading my recent interview with a local weekly paper in which I mentioned my general preference for officiating at funerals over weddings. "Dr. Death," my son now calls me. Never mind that what I really appreciated was how much more authentic and present people tend to be in the remembrance of loved ones who have died -- the stories, the appreciations, the laughter, the tears -- in contrast to the melodrama and superficiality that so often swirl around weddings. At funerals it is all about the people -- or at least about the person. At weddings, more often than not, it's all about the pictures and the party afterwards. "We don't care about the vows; what we really want to know is how close the videographer can stand?"

I know weddings are not all like this. I have officiated at several that raised a lump in my throat -- whose tenderness and sincerity, made palpable by the widened eyes and the hushed and careful responses, made emotions rise and tears fall and confirmed the fact that what was being solemnized among us was infinitely larger than all of us combined.

It just doesn't happen very often. And today's newspaper brought me some smug validation. Unfortunately -- tragically and even unforgivably, it seems -- a wedding reception a couple of years ago had some problems. Guests got sick. Tainted salad was blamed. The couple sued the restaurant, and now the verdict is in: $50,000 the restaurant will be required to pay the unhappy, devastated couple. They had asked for more than 8-times that amount, and registered their dismay that the jury didn't compensate them for "future emotional distress."

Please. Future emotional distress? Are you really going to spend the rest of your life sucking on this sore thumb? I can't be too optimistic about a marriage inalterably bent and scarred by viral radishes and radicchio. Get over the reception and get on with your marriage.

Besides, while tainted salad may have played some part, my sense is that stomach cramps are fairly common place at weddings, even when nothing has been consumed. Those aren't, after all, just words that are spoken; they are breathtaking promises exchanged that will fundamentally alter the course and character and alignment of lives. Even if the couple and those closest to them aren't particularly mindful of the epochal implications, stomachs usually are, having enough sense to tie themselves up in knots.

Just to be smug about it I could add that I've never heard of this sort of thing happening at a funeral -- heartache, to be sure, but no stomach ache -- but I'll restrain myself. After all, I would hate for the church ladies who prepare those funeral luncheons to get sued. They are haggard enough as it is.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Love, the Many Splendored Ambiguity

"The essence of what we do is love and love. According to history and sacred writings, love always perseveres. It doesn't give up. If you really love God and your neighbors, you don't give up. That's the message."

Words are funny. These quoted above are drawn from a Des Moines Register article about mirroring protests at the Capitol yesterday by gay marriage supporters and opponents. During their Thursday session the Iowa House of Representatives responded to two attempts to move forward enabling legislation toward a constitutional amendment that would exclude the same-sex marriages for which the State Supreme Court had opened the door last Friday. Both sides in the debate were amply represented to express their convictions.

But as I say, words are funny. Which side invoked the persevering qualities of love cited above? Which side asserted steadfastness in their determination to love; that ultimately this entire debate is about love? The answer, of course, is in the article itself, and I will leave you to read it for yourself. My point is simply to note that either side could have spoken them. Both voices speak of love and its power to motivate, drive, and sustain. Both sides claim that what their efforts are really all about is the desire to love.

And yet these loving motivations have drawn these two loving voices into opposite sides of the House Visitor's Gallery where they eventually shout and decry each other into escorted removal from the chambers.

"The essence of what we do is love and love."

What a funny, funny word. Love: so vigorously defended, so righteously asserted, so achingly desired, so conflictually invoked, so torturously defined, and so rarely...


"The essence of what we do is love and love." Who said it? The fact is, it hardly matters. Everyone, after all, says it, and unfortunately means opposite things in the invocation of it. The real question is who will stop saying it long enough to actually demonstrate a little of it?

Friday, April 3, 2009

When the dominoes fall sideways

There are certain immutable laws of the universe, among them:
  1. hospital patients and their families are only asleep when you visit without a calling card to leave as evidence of your presence;
  2. Airline flights are only delayed on those days you rush to the airport without having had the time to check flight status in advance.

These, I suspect, are corollaries to the law that it only rains on days immediately succeeding those in which you have had your car washed, and that you only smudge or spill something on your pants the first time you wear them after dry cleaning. This may not be true, but I suspect it is. Sometimes the dominoes fall sideways instead of neatly forward, one rhythmically into the next.

The moral, I suppose, is that a sense of humor remains important, that patience remains essential, and a rigid insistence on order -- on everything working out like it "should" -- remains a futile delusion, at best, and at worst a recipe for a miserable life. I'm not really smart enough to know how life "should" work out anyway, despite my frequent exasperations when it doesn't, and I might be better served by keeping cracked a window of expectancy for the myriad good things -- conversations, introductions, observations and relaxations that slip in serendipitously.

That, and an extra book handy for those times when the flight is delayed yet again.