The year was 1996, and we were just about to move from middle Tennessee to Maine. Packing was done, goodbyes had been tearfully exchanged, all necessary arrangements had been made, and the time had finally come. The plan was that I would drive son Matthew to Maine and about a week later, husband Ed and daughter Rachel would follow. There was just one thing left to do. A couple of days before Matt and I were to leave, I had to play for a wedding.
Ed had just finished 4 years of ministry assigned to a charge near Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and in the course of that appointment, he had become acquainted with another minister, whose name was Carol (easy for us to remember!) and whose last name was also similar to ours with one letter difference, Janes, so people were forever getting confused and sometimes we would even get each other’s mail. Carol’s daughter was getting married, and Carol herself was going to officiate in the ceremony, but would I consent to play the organ? Even though it was a hectic time for us and our to-do list was a mile long, I readily agreed.
I have played the organ for a lot of weddings in my time, and I frankly don’t remember much of the ceremony, although I’m sure it was lovely and poignant. I do remember this, however: Ed and I made a short visit to the reception, and when it was time to go I wanted to say goodbye to the happy couple. I didn’t know them well, had just met them in my role as wedding organist, and I knew the probability was that we would never see each other again. Every version of “goodbye” in my mind seemed inadequate, and I vividly remember what I blurted out as we exited the hall: “Have a good life!” That would cover the next few decades, I guess.
I recall thinking how odd the situation was - here I was, an integral part of a major life-changing event in this couple’s lives - an organist at their wedding. I, a virtual stranger, had witnessed one of the most personal and private moments a human being can have. I had not seen them before, and would no doubt never see them again. Yet, there we were - our lives entwined for a brief hour or so, and then we would go our separate paths. So far, almost 20 years later, my prediction has come true, at least for now. Rev. Janes and Ed were not good friends - she was more of a colleague - and thus we have not kept in touch through the years. I often think about that couple and my wish to have a good life. I hope they have, and I hope they continue to live in happiness and peace. But I will probably never know.
The reason I think about them so many years later is that our encounter made me consider the journey of our lives and the many people we come across. Some of these people become lifelong friends. Some are on paths that intersects with ours just for a brief moment, then move away forever. Some weave in and out of our lives like a drunk trying to walk a straight line for a policeman. Some are close friends with whom we lose touch because of various life circumstances and with whom we delightfully reconnect many years later. Some are just strangers and will remain strangers, but we share individual moments in time - some momentous, others mundane. A smile and greeting exchange at a cash register. Someone in the audience complimenting me when I performed at a dinner theater. A former classmate with whom I shared a few years of adolescence. One of my kids’ teachers I met at open house (although - one of those teachers turned out to become my son-in-law - you never know about those chance encounters....). The friendly policeman who stopped me at a routine roadblock when I was driving home from work at midnight. The librarian who used to check out my books when I was a little girl. The flight attendant who knew I was scared to fly and who tried to reassure me. The hairdresser who made me look good for my daughter’s wedding. The nurse who made sure I had a chance to see my brand-new grandbaby, as I was alone in the hospital room watching over everyone’s belongings.
Then there are the churches we served. Just like military families, United Methodist ministers move around, appointed to one place, moving to another place, constantly saying hello and goodbye. Each congregation, each member, affected us in some way. Some showed us how to be a Christian, and others showed us how not to be. Every single one a teacher.
Ed had a seminary professor once who told him that two human beings cannot cross, even for the briefest of moments, without having an effect on the other. Each one of us is permanently changed by every encounter. We may not realize it, but we are.
I have even been changed and continue to be changed by total strangers. Facebook now puts things in my “newsfeed” when one of my friends “likes” a post. These posts originate from strangers, but I see them as they are shared and many of them make me think, which is always a good thing. Some of these posts remind me to appreciate life, or how it costs nothing to be kind. I inadvertently see pictures of complete strangers who have just gotten engaged, married, or had a baby. I see hopes and dreams and happiness in their eyes, and for a short moment, we connect, as one human being to another, and I join in their happiness. Then I see a post from a stranger who is grieving - a suicide, and auto accident, a pet who died. Again, I share a moment and grieve with them. These are people I have never met and will probably never meet. But we connect on a very human level, even for a few seconds.
That is what it boils down to - shared humanity. Every time I encounter another human being, I want to try to remember that this encounter will change us. And if I can remember that, maybe I can do all in my power to make the change a blessing for both of us.