Helga had lost four husbands, though I never inquired specifically how or when she had lost them, an oversight I soon regretted. “Leaky pipe,” she said when she called. “Don’t try to keep me from crawling under there,” she said. So, I drove into the country to try to persuade her to let me crawl into the two-foot space under the floorboards of her house. It was breathtaking how easy it was to persuade her: “Ok, you do it,” she said as soon as I got there. Only it came out “jew do it.” Though in her 80’s she was clearly in charge. “You are quite macho,” she said and I was sure she was mocking me. She could have searched the five-county region of northern Missouri and not found someone less qualified to fix a leaky pipe. I told her, “When you call the water company tell them you have a PhD on the job.” She found this terribly amusing and repeated it several times to let me know how clever she considered me. Being a foreigner and well educated she clearly had refined sensibilities. Missourians – I learned after 15 years in their native habitat – are highly un-amused with life and are a hard people to impress.
I was feeling appreciated – until I saw where she was having me crawl. I am not given to claustrophobia and have squeezed through the tightest spots in caves but I got a sick feeling looking into the cobweb covered hole. I barely managed to twist around the beams head-first into the dark mud-filled hole. “Crawl toward the var zide,” she shouted. I barely fit under the floorboards and I had to crawl on my elbows and it was hard to slide forward in the sticky mud. “Go vurther back,” she coaxed in her East Berlin accent. Then I realized there was no light from where I had crawled in. I was surprised she had managed to close the heavy trap door but she is quite athletic – a former coach. Then it occurred to me where I would find Charles, Obed, and Hans, the former husbands no longer with us. The call had been so urgent I had not told Faith or anyone where I was going and I had left my phone in the car.
The feeling was that of being trapped in a coffin. But I could breathe and after the initial panic I accepted my fate. Of course, I was sorry that they would never find my body and no one would gather to say nice things about me. Faith would be mad that I had so irresponsibly disappeared.
I wished I could have gone to the shore and enjoyed a final visit on the beach with Jason and Vangie. Jason’s beautiful vision of heaven which he has written about (here and here) came to mind – a little community of people gathering, sharing, enjoying one another’s company – I realized it was something we had enjoyed together these last days.
It had been a good week. Mazie made a fine pasta and a dozen of us gathered and we sang “There is a Wideness in God’s Mercy,” and “The Vine and the Fig Tree.” Louis, a good Quaker, joined our group as well as Mary Jane and Dorothy. I met Gary and Mary Jane when I was 18 and Gary went, “To see Jesus first,” as he put it. He had so enjoyed our little group and I think spent some of his happiest final days in our fellowship.
At the end, a few of us travelled down to Joplin to see him – Mazie, David, Chris, and Kelsi had prepared some really bad jokes to try to cheer him up. It was his jokes that had gotten us started on joke nights. Gary had been my prayer partner for over 40 years and I had often depended upon his faith to bolster my own. We laughed, reminisced and prayed. David, one of the most sensitive souls I have ever met, grew sentimental but I knew Gary would have none of it. “You going to return my hand or take it with you,” he asked. He survived a few more days and we met up with Mary Jane and Dorothy at his funeral. The group was able to help Mary Jane move into her new house in town and it was wonderful having them here the past few weeks.
In thinking about resurrection, our discussion as we ended I Corinthians, we had all described the simple pleasures of the week and the little things we could do to make it resurrection like. David had described his work with the suicide hotline and veterans groups. I had decided to join him on a veterans kayak trip. Most everyone in attendance suffered some form of PTSD – some bearing visible scars but most suffering mentally. David has a wonderful gift of affirming people and I very much enjoyed our float trip.
Kelsi’s younger sister, Jaycee, was visiting and we had spent a brief time pulling weeds in the garden – Kelsi’s resurrection work. She has a Japanese-like sense of neatness and presentation, and though our garden is smaller this year, the cucumbers, tomatoes, sage, and basil, are thriving. I had spent several evenings admiring the garden while watching the hummingbirds coming in to the feeder. We had celebrated Jaycees thirteenth birthday and Mazie presented her with the only mochi birthday cake I have ever seen. Mazie and Chris’s resurrection work is all around them in their kindnesses to people. Chris came and looked at the leak in the Carpenter’s House roof and repaired it temporarily before taking on the task of replacing the windows.
Though Frank is far enough in the country that he does not make it in often, he had come to fix the garage door but ended up installing two ceiling fans and a light fixture – something I could have spent months attempting and failing at. His expertise makes everything we do possible – I should have told him that. Little Frankie, Andrew, and Chelsea entertained us for the day while Frank fixed everything. The little guys were such a delight to be around that I wished I could have seen my grandson more often.
It had been a good week and as usual one of the highlights was the Romans class in which six guys from Mexico, Canada, and between, meet up online. I had been encouraged by Matt’s great enthusiasm and energy. His blog on resurrection (here) coincided with the theme we were pursuing in both the class and in house church. We had phoned him in on Tuesday, David and Michael figured how to put him on the tv, and he joined the discussion as I quoted him at length. He described his work with the girls in Uganda through 91/Four and the fellowship of men he ministers to coming out of addiction – his resurrection work. Sharon sparked conversation with references to Richard Rohr – whom she was having me read and I remembered we had planned a podcast. The Cosmic Christ was on my mind as I heard Helga banging on the floor.
“What do you see,” she shouted. It was then I realized she had not closed the trap door. I did not bother to explain that I had been dying in the mud – enjoying my final week on earth.
(Names and events have been altered and rearranged for narrative purposes).