Re-membering

For the first time, I have uploaded some audio files to the blog!  You can find them here, or by clicking on the link at the top labelled “Sarah’s other writing.”  Check them out!  The shortest is under five and a half minutes – the longest just over eight minutes.

I recorded these memories of my father for the Connections segment of Trinity Voices: a weekly radio broadcast recorded and produced by Jim Ayres for Trinity United Methodist Church in Durham, NC.  They aired on 4 consecutive Sunday mornings in December 2010.

On every other occasion when I had worked with Jim, I had written full manuscripts, barely deviating from them in the recording process.  But having just returned from a week with my dying father – knowing that I would not see him alive again (this side of the kingdom), I was too emotional to prepare anything.

Usually, Jim recorded in a classroom in the basement of the church, but it was a Sunday evening – the basement was being used by several other groups.  The quietest place in which to record was the sanctuary.  I arrived early and wrote a few notes – planned how the four recordings would work together as a series.  Jim wanted me to do something about gifts; all I could think about was my father.  We were not entirely sure how or why he was holding on to life.  I knew that Dad was going to die sometime before the recordings aired.  I sat alone in the darkening sanctuary, redolent with lingering prayers and dusty paraments, and I meditated on my father – on the gifts that he had given me, and on what that might reveal to listeners about God’s gifts to them.  Looking back, I was composing a hagiography – selecting out the saintly bits from my Dad’s relationship with me.  Nestled between the Feast of All Saints and my father’s own impending saint day, it was a season for selective re-membering:  for reassessing and reassembling my father’s life in a way that helped me make sense of my love for him, and the depth of my disorientation as he lingered on the threshold of earthly life.

I had preached or spoken from notes many times before that Sunday night, but never before had I spoken for so long with no more than a sentence fragment or two to guide me.  As far as I remember, Jim recorded these one after the other, in a continuous take.  It was the eulogy before the funeral – a better eulogy than the one that spilled out of me from the pulpit of Mt. Pisgah United Methodist Church in Midlothian, Virginia less than a week later.

Jim had never given me a copy of a radio segment I had composed for him before – but without being asked he handed me two CDs with these recordings on it at the Thanksgiving Eve service that year – one for me and one for my mother.  I don’t know if she has ever listened to hers.  I only felt ready to listen to it for the first time today.  Today was the first day that I felt certain that listening to them would make my day better instead of worse.

I hope that in re-membering my father in this way – in piecing this collage portrait out of the best bits of him – that I did not commit an act of violence against those who remember him differently.  My Dad could be a difficult guy.  To say the least.  I was on the receiving end of some of that myself.  A lot of that, actually.

Instead it is my hope and prayer that in the last day, as we stand before Jesus our judge, that each one of us will be re-membered, re-assembled from all that was good and loving and true, and that all that was false and empty and fearful and underhanded will be swept away – tossed like chaff into an unquenchable fire.  Out of the best of who we were, so we will be.  My father as revealed in and through these four stories – this is how I will recognize him when we meet again in that kingdom which is coming.

One response

  1. I will always remember that recording session. We had arranged it some weeks in advance, and knowing the circumstances I had a plan ‘B’. When you agreed to go on, I was delighted and grateful.

    As the recordings proceeded, I found your courage a special thing that took my breath away. During the first segment, a train went by and the sound of the whistle can be heard under your voice. In normal circumstances, I would have paused the recording while the train passed, but this was not normal. Not for you you and not for me.

    I had just come through the anniversary of my own father’s death and each year I grieve again. I was just completing that process of annual mourning when these recordings were done. It made me acutely aware what these recordings required of you, and the grace you were exhibiting as we captured your words and thoughts.

    After we were done, I gathered up the equipment and went and sat in my car for several minutes. I didn’t want to start the engine for a while because its sound would have been just too intrusive for my thoughts. I needed a time of silent reflection before I could resume ‘normal’.

    Thank you again.

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