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Monday, August 31, 2009

Death, Life, The Dirty Truth and a Living Disarray.

Last week, within 24 hours my Northampton life was intersected by four experiences, two were planned and two seemingly inserted - all within 24 hours. They showed up on their own; one was very jarring.

The planned experiences were delightful.

The back story: imagine/northampton has been invited by Vision New England to provide the music for and present a video about our church at their Annual Meeting in September. We will be one of 6 church plants in New England highlighted this year by them - a great opportunity we think.

To create the video, I asked Nate Oldham to film it for us. He graciously agreed, so last Friday he and his fiancee, Ashley Capozzoli came up to spend the day shooting. It was to be a short, 2 and a half-minute piece highlighting who we are and what we are in Northampton for. I had written the script for it and would be the "talking head." So we began late morning at Pulaski Park where the first two segments of the script were shot.

It went well after a few takes. I am not seasoned at this sort of thing, but with their helpful and gentle coaxing, I got the job done and will not wince when I see it on the big screen. After that portion, we headed over to shoot the last part on Kirkland Avenue, the curious, covered alley/street linking Pleasant Street to a parking lot behind Main Street. The plan was I would walk and talk the final monologue. It went well also.

As we were walking from the park to Kirkland we passed just by the parking garage and I happened to look to my right as we were talking. I noticed quickly a fire ambulance, police, and a small crowd gathered around the yellow tape people put up to cordon off crime or accident scenes. We walked a little farther looking to see what was happening.

That's when I saw him. Lying on the street, 10 yards or so from the entrance was a man. He was on his side and utterly motionless. From our vantage point we saw the top of his head, his arms bent up near his head and his shoulders. He was lying like a child sleeping on its side. While there was no gore we could see (nor did we want too, believe me), it was plain to all of us he was dead.

Out of respect for the dignity of this unfortunate person, we did not linger, but the effect of unexpectedly seeing death on a bright Friday morning with friends doing something exciting, did.

After the shoot, we met up with Tricia and had lunch together at Zen, a Japanese restaurant in town. The place is elegantly presented and the food delicious. It was wonderful for us to have a meal with Nate and Ash. After lunch, we wandered all over town as Nate took "b-roll" shots for the video. Life and creativity continued.

Fast forward to 7:15, Friday evening. Team member, Matt Bayne, and I agreed earlier in the week to meet at a local watering hole called The Dirty Truth (such a winsome name), for a grog and some catch-up conversation. He, Karen, and their boys just spent their first week in Northampton after moving from Tariffville.

The place was packed and we had to almost yell to hear each other amidst the din of conversations racing on all around us. If the truth is dirty nobody would hear it in that place! Nevertheless, as it always is with Matt or Karen, the conversation was rich, intellectually stimulating, honest, and funny. We spent a couple of hours there talking everything from Matt's work as a graphic novelist to the wildly peculiar realities of the quantum world. Life and connecting continued.

Now, those of you with dogs know there is an early morning ritual which must be performed or an unpleasant in-house incident will occur needing cleaning and disinfecting.

At the lovely hour of 4:30, Saturday morning, I trudged down our three flights of stairs with Tiger and headed out onto Main Street for his morning toilet and constitutional. As you know, it is still pretty dark. He has a tree just to the left of our front door he "anoints" every morning. Also right next to our door is the door to the adjacent building. The vestibule is quite sunken and very dark at night.

So as Tiger is doing his business, I hear a low voice coming from the vestibule. The voice seems not directed toward me. But, it is creepy and continues the entire time I am there. I cannot make out words. As I look hesitantly over my shoulder, I can make out what looks to be a baby carriage filled with stuff. Behind it, someone is scrunched up and huddled over, talking in a deep monotone the entire time we are there.

The encounter was disconcerting to say the least.

I realized later in talking with Tricia that she is a schizophrenic woman in town who spends her days wandering the streets, pushing the baby carriage and talking to herself. She lives in two worlds 24 hours a day - the one she shares with us physically, and the one of her own making.


As I thought about what I experienced in Northampton those 24 hours, I am reminded once again of unsettling juxtapositions:

1. Death interrupts days crammed with ordinary and life-celebrating experiences. It can show up with a vicious suddenness and stop life in its tracks. In those instances, death is a cruel intruder, unwelcome, but hard to ignore. Death in front of our eyes grabs our attention.

2, Death always leaves me with a sense of sadness, and sometimes, with a profound sense of waste, even though I am resolved that there is true life after this death. I know everything matters, but still . . .

3. Death discolors an ordinary day; it leaves a stain hard to get out. I had to move on, but I was marked by the death of this stranger lying in the street. I still see is body dead on the street.

4. People trapped in severely broken minds always leave me feeling helpless and uncomfortable . . . and I am a counselor! It is as if the humanity of the person has been altered so radically that he or she lives an existence locked away from me. It is frightening and always unsettling. I feel I have no way in so I shy away.

5. Doing something creative and life-giving with gifted friends always makes me want to leap for joy. I cannot get enough! Even though death and disarray barged in for me to see briefly, I was also able to see grace spill over and friendship comfort.

6. To me, a life lived well includes creating art, having connecting conversations, and celebrating the wonder of loving, fruitful relationships in the midst of death and disarray taking center stage more than any of us want.

7. Death will intrude and sting, but God created life to refuse to be silenced or stifled. It will overwhelm death, and death will be no more.

Creativity, making videos, lunch with loved ones, a grog with a friend, and the simple routines of a day all point to the God of astonishing life which will not be denied, life that will interrupt death for good.

Jesus dies for 3 days 2000 years ago . . . and he woke up.

LIFE wins; death is hamstrung and will be put down forever someday. We can all count on it.


Here's a thought: do something really alive after you read this and do it with someone else who really matters to you.

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