On Friday, I paid five Euro, picked up the blue blazer at the cleaners and figured I’d wear it to church on Sunday. Although in this relaxed, Mediterranean culture, few people “dress up” for church, I decided, for old time’s sake, to wear the blazer, with contrasting khaki pants and a button-down collar, white shirt, but without socks!
Come Sunday morning, we did our usual thing: I let Janice out at the church door and went prospecting for a parking spot, within a reasonable hiking distance of the church house. Parking in Athens is always tricky, but especially on Sunday morning, when most everyone is still sleeping-in and few have moved their vehicles from their overnight resting spaces. Remarkably, I found a parking space just one block from the church.
Feeling unusually blessed (That’s always a bad sign, for me!), I stepped out of the vehicle and confidently swung the jacket around my shoulders, managing, in one movement, to get my right arm in the sleeve and to position the left one for entry. As I turned my head slightly, to ensure that the second arm made it into the arm hole of the jacket, both my peripheral vision and my nostrils picked up something nasty on the left shoulder of the jacket. Did I tell you that I had just gotten that jacket out of the cleaners on Friday? Did I tell you that I paid five Euro to have that thing cleaned?
Well, you can just imagine what I said (to myself) when I realized that, in the split second between getting out of my car and swinging that coat over my head, a pigeon had dropped a generous load of poop on my backside. Oh, the nastiness of it all! Oh, the indignity! Oh, how sick was that pigeon! That “stuff” was splattered across BOTH shoulders and some of it made it down the middle of the back of my freshly laundered blue blazer!
I must tell you; an experience like that doesn’t do much for my readiness to worship an all-knowing, gracious, all-loving and providential God! Aside from my angst, I was, of course, immediately presented with a practical question. What does one do with a boat load of pigeon poop on one’s shoulders when approaching an imminent hour of worship? Does one call off personal worship entirely? Does one simply leave the unclean garment in the vehicle? Or, does one approach the altar of God, in the words of the old hymn, “just as I am”?
After a few moments of serious sidewalk situation-analysis and seminal self-argument, I decided to head for the nearest rest room, inside the church building. After all, if a true believer cannot attempt to clean-up in preparation for worship within the cloistered confines of a church potty, where else can one turn? For those worshippers in America, accustomed to spacious church buildings with expansive and generous restrooms on every floor, I must inform you that our church in Athens has but a single “one-holer” toilet on the main floor. So, carefully holding my coat, I waited until the pre-teen girl came out of the potty and hurriedly rushed inside.
As generously equipped as our church rest room may be, it quickly became evident that the task which confronted me was far greater than the supplies at hand. Water – oh, yes, I had plenty of water! Paper towels – not so much! Flimsy toilet paper – well, on an ordinary day, the place was amply stocked. But this, of course, was no ordinary day!
Almost fifteen minutes later, I emerged from the rest room with the back of my coat glistening with the sheen of fresh water and pock-marked with microscopic bits of soluble, white tissue. The elderly lady, who had been waiting impatiently to use the restroom, glared at me with condemnation, as if I had committed the unpardonable sin. A part of me wanted to explain my situation, but another part of me recognized that this was not a “teachable moment” for her. So, I quickly got out of her way, as she barrelled past me!
I finally rejoined Janice, sitting now with our friends and singing the congregational hymns, near to the front of the sanctuary. Thankfully, they were not singing “There shall be showers of blessing!” After a few seconds, Janice looked at me with that, “What happened to you?” look. Her eyes seemed to be saying: “Where have you been? You look like a pigeon just pooped on you!” As all husbands learn to do in times like this, I turned to her and said, “Don’t even ask! I’ll explain later!”
By the time the preacher began his exceptional sermon, I was frankly distracted. Glancing furtively over my shoulder, I noticed that my “wash-job” was insufficient and the brown stuff was making a re-appearance in worship. The lines from that old song made famous by Ella Fitzgerald and the Ink Spots kept racing through my head. I now know that Ella and the boys borrowed some of the lyrics from none other than Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Henry said and Ella sang: “Into each life some rain must fall.”
And, right there, in the cool, quiet meditation of personal worship, I resolved to keep moving in my urban life in Greece. I prayed silently to God my own impracatory lament and personal resolution: “Into my life some pigeon poop must fall!”
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
I remember it like it was yesterday, despite the reality that it is now almost fifty years since my college debate partner, in his second affirmative speech, referred to me as his colleague. I had made the first affirmative speech, outlining the problem, defining terms, hinting at our proposed solution and sat down. The first negative speaker, following the standard protocol for university argumentation, had sharply critiqued my presentation. And then, as expected, my partner rose to defend me and present our proposed case. In the routine fulfillment of his assignment, my debate partner called me his colleague. I felt all warm inside! I almost lost my concentration and drifted away from the serious mental preparation for my next spot in the debate – so focused was I on the elegant affirmation captured in that simple word, colleague. I guess it was the very first time that someone referred to me as a colleague. I felt almost “grown up” and professional like. From that day until now, I have held this word high in the hiearchy of my own exemplary words. Both the word and its meaning have always been special to me. To be a colleague and to share the status of colleagueship with another is, to me, one of life’s great blessings and, at the same time, one of its most challenging assignments. I have come to the place where I can affirm the importance of colleagues in my life. The narrative of my life contains many characters. But these powerful persons are far more than mere cast members, stage dressing or incidental props in my life’s drama. They are an essential part of its plot. Indeed, the peculiar prose and poetry of my personal passage is the fruit of not a few primary writers. It may well be true that I have never had an original thought, but I have unquestionably been surrounded by several seminal thinkers. If I am the protagonist (from the Greek πρωταγωνιστής protagonistes, "one who plays the first part”) and hero of my own Greek drama, there have been any number of deuteragonists and tritagonists and a small number of genuine antagonists. My novel, in the end, will turn out to have been a joint enterprise, co-written by a consortium of co-creators and colleagues; my song will forever remain the joint result of several collaborators. I have welcomed a few co-conspirators and the colors of my life painting reflect the brush strokes of many artists. If I have contributed any unique design in my world, it is because I am surrounded by many fellow designers. These thoughts hit me like a cool mountain breeze last week when, with my World Personnel Services colleagues, I toured the beautiful and historic monasteries of Meteora, Greece. Many years ago, nobly motivated, individual ascetics largely removed themselves from human contact, fashioned dwellings on the side of and at the top of perilous monoliths and devoted themselves to God. While I have not been summoned to such a life and notwithstanding the lasting contributions of such highly focused piety and such splendid solitude, I am reminded that, except in rare instances, even these monastics lived and worked in community. Indeed, they shared the “higher” calling with colleagues who, though rigorously limited in social contact, were nonetheless integral to their devout lives. Remembering the words of Holy Scripture in one of its earliest passages, I can hear the Almighty say that “It is not good that mankind should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18). Today, I thank God for all who have shared my professional journey and to whom I can respectfully refer as my colleagues.