Saturday, September 18, 2010

Between Churches: A World Without Dee

Dee wasn't what you'd call a friend--although she was infinitely friendly herself, and our interactions were always friendly, and even after I left her church, we remained friends on Facebook. I was in her home twice; as well as I can remember, she was never in mine. We never ate together except during church events. We didn't do the things that you might reasonably expect friends to do together. We didn't have much in common, to be honest. So friend doesn't seem the right word for her.

Dee wasn't what you'd call an elder--at least not in the technical, churchy sense of the word, or at least not during the time that we were involved in the same church. She served on plenty of committees, I'm sure, but she didn't attend meetings of the church's session (I did), and so she didn't have a vote on the issues that were moved and seconded and discussed and resolved there (I did). She was older than me, I guess, but I don't suppose I can, with ecclesial precision, refer to her as my elder.

And yet Dee, it seemed, was always around, mostly because we were both always around the church. We acted in plays together (she got the bigger laughs); we attended the same Sunday school classes; we participated in the same children's ministry; whenever the choir sang, my eye went to her--partly because she was the only woman singing the men's part, partly because she swayed and smiled and emoted more than most. I knew Dee's opinions about most everything, and there were times I was sure I could predict what she would say before she raised her hand and said it.

I've been at a retreat this weekend of people in my industry, and one of the women there reminds me a bit of Dee. And as she shared in a circle what's going on in her personal-professional-spiritual life she gave us language that I think best describes Dee for me: "I'm not an elder in my church," she said; "I guess you'd call me a fixture."

That's what Dee was: a fixture. Larger than life, impossible to ignore, technically on the periphery of power but powerful nonetheless, she was her own thing with her own rules. I've met a lot of fixtures over the years; some of them I refer to always by their full name, as though a less formal attribution wouldn't carry enough weight. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali, C________ H________, K________ C________--I would never think of the latter two (I know them; you probably don't) alongside the former three, but when they come up I treat them the same. Fixtures of world history and fixtures of my history--they are rewarded with the same gravitas. But then there are the one-word fixtures--the Napoleons, the Stings, the Bonos, and Dee. More than one word would be gilding the lily, I suppose.

What would the world be like without its fixtures? That's a pointless exercise if I've ever heard one. The world would continue to turn; maybe others with their own expansive personalities would step in from the margins to take their place; maybe civilization would collapse. Who can say? It's enough to acknowledge that they were fixtures and move on. But the question is different when it's not the world but your world. It's our fixtures that are holding things together for us; without them, things fall apart. Not necessarily big things, and not necessarily things that needed desperately to be held together. But they do fall apart, break down, and so consequently we don't often discover how much we depended on the fixtures until after the fact.

Dee ceased to be a regular part of my life nine months ago, when I left the church we attended together. Yesterday I found out that she had died, after a long and painful struggle with all sorts of health problems. How do you say goodbye to a fixture? Who knows. This is how I'm doing it. I'm also praying for her husband, who already knew how much he depended on her, and who will undoubtedly discover things he never noticed that anchored him to her. I'm also praying for her church, which I once called my church; it has lost one of its fixtures, and while it will surely go on, it will not be the same without her.

4 comments:

Kara said...

Great post, Dave. Dee stretched me. She told the truth, wasn't afraid to say the hard things and yet had a vulnerable side to her. People felt strongly about her. She knew what she believed and she told you what she believed. She was very loyal to her friends and family. She enjoyed having fun. She was a faithful prayer warrior and through her struggles figured out a way to truly depend on God. She was a servant. She challenged and stretched me and I learned a lot about my weaknesses and strengths from her. She definitely was a fixture, but I also believe that in a way, she will continue to be a fixture, as she has an important legacy. And because of how she lived and what she shared, I have a picture of her finally meeting her Lord face to face- and it is beautiful.

Lisa Yonan said...

What a wonderful tribute... :)

Ken said...

CLEAN!!!! That's the word that got Dee the big laugh, and she was brilliant. Dave's post is eloquent, insightful and very true. Dee was a fixture in our church and will remain one for some time to come. I knew Dee much the same way Dave did. The Dee I knew was loving to all, knowledgeable including knowing when and when not to speak and very giving. She was not afraid to put her ideas into action. It is now time for her to outlive her life and she is doing that already. Jesus called us to follow him, to follow his example. Jesus outlived his life on earth in the BIG way. Dee has been setting an example for everyone that met her for many years. To me, that's one of the most important roles a person can take on. The example setter. We all do it by default, one way or another. Dee did it in the best way. Anyone who was part of our church knew Dee struggled with illness for a long time, but Dee never showed it. We prayed for her often recently. She was in church a few weeks ago, being gracious and loving. I'll remember Dee for her engagement of life, her ability to laugh and how I wanted to be on her team when a Bible trivia game was being played.

Anonymous said...

I cried when I heard she passed. I haven't cried that hard since my own father passed away. Dee was a rock and I learned so much from her. A few years ago when the Fellowship Committee was tossed into my lap and I had no idea how to be the head of a committee, she helped me to figure it all out. And, even though she was very ill at the time, she supported me and prayed for me. This is what I learned from her: pray - pray - pray! She lived it and that's what I loved most about her.
She will be apart of our church forever because she remains through her example to all of us.
~Ellen