It turns out that Spencer’s daughter, Mary Beth (who I have been working with to plan his funeral service) was at Old First before Spencer arrived with Holly! Not in church, but with the playgroup that Kristen M. and Harvey got going while Mindy was our Administrator. I knew Mary Beth and she knew me. But the whole time I have known Spencer, I never made the connection.
Another recent one: I have learned that my ‘newish’ French friend (who came to the U.S. with his ex-husband) has a sister who came to the U.S. before him, as an au pair for a family in Connecticut. The same family of someone I went to college with. When we realized this, I learned that my college friend died in a helicopter accident a couple of years ago.
Two examples of the kinds of connections we often don’t know that we have. Sometimes I wonder how many we never discover, even if the other people might know them.
With my friend Martha, we used to play a game — trying to figure out the weirdest connections we have to the rich, powerful, and famous. I once met President Obama. Nice memory, but not a win in our game. But, that Jeremiah Wright knew me by name through Jim Forbes, the pastor at Riverside Church, now there’s some good tangential or random degrees of separation. Wright conducted Summer Revivals at Riverside Church, where he came to know me. And he was Obama’s pastor, though soon to be estranged. That was more of what Martha and my’s game was looking for.
Or that my friend Geoffrey grew up in Philly next door to Patti LaBelle; I never met her, but I know her little neighbor well, but only when he was grown up and no longer living near her. But he says if they passed in an airport, she’d still recognize him and speak. Oh, and then I moved to Philly after they both had left.
But we really liked the arcane connections. For example, my friend Ellen from college grew up in Garden City with the son of a UCC pastor who was later my colleague. The pastor’s son had an ex-girlfriend from college at Duke — who Ellen never met — who when Jackson Browne was on campus for a concert, had dinner with him.
Maybe my best one was a two way connection to Sarah Jessica Parker. First, I carpooled with another family when our kids where in the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Choir together. The mother of the other chorister was a student at General Seminary. I was already a pastor. I would help her with her studies sometimes. In her second year of seminary, she worked at a local Episcopal parish for the Rev. Cecily Broderick, who was Matthew Broderick’s sister. Matthew was married to Sarah Jessica Parker.
The other one was even more random but also face to face. After Miriam and I divorced, I stayed close to her aunt Barbara, the widow of Miriam’s mom’s brother. Barbara’s brother was the actor Richard Kiley who was in The Man of La Mancha on Broadway. Years later, he was in a TV show with Sarah Jessica Parker, long before Sex and the City. I don’t remember why, but Sarah Jessica came to Barbara’s pool party to pick up Uncle Dick, and I got to meet her.
Ah, our desperate attempts to connect with stardom, glamour, fame!
Or just a way of recognizing the invisible web of relationships by which we are much more connected than we often realize. And with those relationships comes influence and opportunity. No, not to go to flashy parties or to meet other famous people.
Instead, relationships are the web wherein we get to do what matters most as humans. We are here to help one another. To be a blessing to each other. To be the person without which someone’s life would be that much poorer. Not just with the rich and famous. Them too! But also with people who are almost unknown to you — you may not even know their name. The person behind the counter at the drugstore. The subway token booth clerk. Someone you see at the library, or on the bus.
And we do all this every day without even realizing all the lives we touch. Think about that, even in your most mundane moments. Your attitude and interactions, your helpfulness and compassion, just your presence. When you begin to think about it, every moment is an opportunity that you won’t get again. Not an unimportant idea on the cusp of a New Year.
See you at Spencer’s funeral tomorrow at 11 am.
Or on Sunday in church,