Love Them All
In the play, "A Man for All Seasons," Thomas More, King Henry VIII's Chancellor, meets privately with the Spanish Ambassador who seeks to persuade More to counter the king's messy marital designs which violate the Catholic Church's laws. In that scene I have remembered for nigh unto fifty years the ambassador tries to ingratiate himself into More's confidence by referring to him as his "brother in Christ." Whereupon More retorts to this effect (try as I might, I could not access the quote without buying the whole script): "Brother in Christ? I have only to open the window to find a brother in Christ."
That conviction, founded perhaps on the parable of the Good Samaritan and a whole host of other red letter words, that everyone, even the enemy, is my brother in Christ, resonated in 1964. It still resonates in 2008.
Sunday we drove a total of 570 miles to and from a wedding in Brandywine, Pennsylvania. There we mingled with the families and friends of the bride and groom. You should be able to read later this week about that celebration and, with accompanying photos, see for yourself the beauty of the bride and the glory of the setting in which she and her beloved made their promises to each other... for the second time. During the reception which followed, I found myself facing a twenty-five year old from my former parish on Long Island. Tim Harness (the younger) was in the company of his girlfriend Stephanie. Stephanie, upon hearing that I now lived in Connecticut, put to me the question often asked: "Do you like Connecticut better than Long Island?"
It used to be "Brooklyn better than Stamford," then "Valley Stream better than Brooklyn," and now, among the descendants of Thomas Hooker, "West Hartford better than Long Island."
Those asking are looking for affirmation even as they put me on the spot.
But having fielded the question occasionally during the past fifty-four years, I have formulated a standard answer: "I love them all, wouldn't have traded a single day's experience anywhere for anywhere else." Or as I have been heard to explain, "Where I am is always the best place to be... because that's where I am." Take that comment not as egotism but as an affirmation of my moment and place. I never had much sympathy for Miniver Cheevy (who "sighed for what was not") when I came across him in Miss Favrao's class. And as a young thing, I laughed nightly at the folly of Major Hoople, "born thirty years too late," on the funny pages of The Stamford Advocate. The pompous Major must have been Minivcr's cousin because he was forever running down the present by exalting the past. In Connecticut the dear major would have been happier on Long Island; on Long Island, he would have been happier in Brooklyn; in Brooklyn, he would have... well, you get the picture.
So I told Stephanie I loved Long Island and to prove it I reported that I spent nearly fifty years there (Brooklyn, some of you may not be aware, is on Long Island!), that I am not a masochist, that I rooted for the Brooklyn Dodgers and now the Mets, that I prefer Manhattan clam chowder to the milky New England variety, and seem to have dedicated my retirement to presiding at weddings for brides and grooms once Long Island junior highs, no longer juniors. She didn't seem impressed.
As we sped through PA, NJ, NY, and CT, passing thousands of homes, taking advantage of an incredibly vast and modern system of highways, I remarked to Barbara on the immensity and intricacy of our national infrastructure. Something like that. What I didn't say, probably because the idea was only percolating and not perfected, was how impressed I was with the presence everywhere we roam (have Bible, will travel) with the kindness and goodness of the people we have met. I know I shouldn't be surprised with that discovery. But chauvinism for the places in which Providence has set me down has blinded me a little bit to the excellences of other places. Still I claim with certainty that had I not had the good luck to be born in Stamford CT; had I not been blessed with a pastorate in Brooklyn; had I never gone east, young man, for twenty-nine years; and had we never found a house we could afford and grow old in in West Hartford; I would be celebrating wherevers with the same enthusiasm as the sacred grounds God has given me to trod.
In Brahms' German Requiem the English translation of the Hebrews 13 text reads: "For here we have no continuing place." Our places and our seasons come and go. After seventy-six years I'm beginning to get the idea that temporal mobility is a preparation for eternal stability, like Ms. Proctor's hymn prays: "I thank thee, Lord, that thou hast kept The best in store; We have enough, yet not too much, To long for more."
Yes, Stephanie, I love them all, you and Timmy too.