Chance Encounters – Congratulations Class of 2012
There is something compelling about the unpredictable. We live most of our days in the pursuit of and subjection to regularity. Irregularity is an unwanted condition that nags us to eat more fiber or put the keys in the same spot at the end of each day. As much as we labor for the predictable, we crave the breath taking moments of surprise. What an odd bind–we need predictability, yet, too much traps our existence in a ruthless rut.
I awakened hours before the first graduation of our newly re-named school. We were staying at our daughter and son-in-law’s home. Their home is approximately an hour bike ride from the graduation site. It was early and the day already looked blustery, cold, and wet–a normal June summer morning. I could have easily driven a car into the city, but I decided to ride my bike. I got to glide through the empty streets of Mercer Island and make my way to the bike lane across Lake Washington on the I-90 bridge. A marathon was planned for that morning and crews were already setting up water, snacks, and porta-potties for the runners. The day smelled of moist air carrying a hint of evergreen and jasmine. I swear it was jasmine, though it could have been a thousand other fragrances. It didn’t matter. I had hours to ride on streets I have never seen and still have time for a coffee before I needed to arrive at 9:00.
As I rode, I let myself turn back three years to 2009 when many of the students graduating had entered school. It was the year I ran my first half-marathon. It was May 2, 1:00PM PST when I no longer bore the title of President. Mike McCoy (Chair of Board of Trustees at the time) flew to graduation that year from Texas simply to see me finish my last act in that role. Becky and I left hours later for Thailand where I contracted a fever of unidentified origin and soon after our return lived for six months with a fever of 100 or more. I remember a talk I gave at their new student orientation, sweating through my shirt, foggy, slightly nauseous, and unsure how I was going to finish the day let alone the ensuing Fall semester.
I remember looking at their faces and anticipating the ride we were all about to start. It is impossible to know in those moments whose life will make the journey a joy or a nightmare. It is not hard to read the eager, intense faces of those who have wanted to be therapists since they were children or the haggard, cynical faces of those burned out on ministry who are seeking the solace of the academy
to rediscover if there is a God worthy to serve other than the half-baked deities of performance and presumption.
As I rode I conjured the image of our large classroom and then put the graduating students at their seats they had chosen and owned since the first class. I remembered. It is one of the sweetest gifts of life to hold faces in your mind and ask our Father to bless and gift each with his delight, honor, and glory. By the time I arrived at our venue I was rich, wet, and needed to put on more appropriate clothes for graduation.
I went into the Men’s bathroom and dumped out my clothes on the window sill, took off my wet bike gear and started to change. At first I thought I should choose a stall but it was far less crowded in the larger area by the sinks. I made the change rapidly since there would be a precipitous moment of nakedness and alacrity is valued in most transitional processes. Finished. I tucked my wet clothes in my pannier and went to a stall to get some paper for the inevitable tears that come during graduation. I heard the door open and as I turned to pick up my gear I saw a graduate in a long dark gown standing before the mirror. It took me a millisecond to realize her hair was beautifully combed, long, curly, and she was checking her near perfection in the mirror.
As you know in moments like this, your whole life passes in front of you and you light on the first epistemological question to be asked: “How in God’s name did I mistakenly get into the woman’s rest room?” Out of the corner of my eye I saw the men’s urinals. I felt a wave of relief until it dawned on me that I had escaped a mutually humbling encounter by a handful of seconds.
Then she turned and spied one of her professors coming into what she must have thought to be her private and safe space. Her face registered in Porsche-like speed incredulity, horror, and then irritation until she seemed to notice out of the corner of her eye the telling presence that she had unwittingly entered a different domain than she intended.
We were both surprised and the humor of the moment swept us into laughter and an embrace. Sadly, I have been in the same position she was in far too many times in my 60 years and there was nothing but the recognition of the embarrassment that rises like a sunburn after a day in the Seattle sun. It was sweet to stand in a men’s room and laugh together.
Utterly unexpected, somewhat irreverent, silly sweet laughter. Oh, it tasted better than a fine wine or a lemon meringue pie. After all her work—and she is a serious, deep, profoundly complex and passionate follower of Jesus—I can still recall moments of weeping and shouting while reading several of her papers–we will likely remember that moment ten years from now, when so many other moments, of far greater value, will have faded.
Laughter, unexpected, unsolicited, utterly surprising–is that my reward for three years of labor together? Is that all? Of course not. But to bear the laughter of sweet surprise is a reward worthy of years of labor when any chance encounter triggers for us the wonder of a good story. Any good story or encounter is a reminder of the utterly unexpected, unsolicited, utterly surprising, extravagant heart of the Father.
Most of our lives can be summed in a few words or accomplishments. Trust me, most of what we have done in this life can be put on a grave marker. We are given a bit more space in an obit but the dour reality is that all we spoke and hear is usually summed in a brief story or anecdote. What we remember, what will likely be remembered about us, are passing chance encounters that reveal as much, if not more, than the lovely ceremonies that follow.
I praise the One who ends predictability and delights in the rising crimson of our laughter.
Congratulations Class of 2012
The Seattle School of Theology &Psychology