By Lois Vidaver
Our pastor retired from our church earlier this year. She received a copy of Dr. Seuss’s “Oh, the Places You Will Go!” as one of her gifts at the retirement dinner jokingly referred to as the “last supper.”
Having reached that stage when distant cities and oceans and mountains beckoned, she packed up an RV and the cat and was on her way.
We miss her attributes – she was creative, funny and compassionate – but she did leave behind her sayings. And along with memories of potluck movie nights, bagpipes at Easter and amazing Bible studies, I still recall them. Like the one that made me sit up straight in the pew one Sunday.
“You have each other’s backs,” she said with conviction from the pulpit. It’s not just a Sunday thing, you know, sitting next to each other in the pew. You need to help each other during the week, phone each other and pray for each other, she reminded us. I had never heard a minister say that quite that way before, but it was plain enough to stick in my head. “You have each other’s backs.”
That was illustrated when she made an announcement on another Sunday morning: “Alice needs a ride to Roswell Park this Tuesday. Who can do it?” and five hands shot up.
“Give them the benefit of the doubt.” Pastor told us that when the homeless need money, give it to them with a cheerful heart. Don’t judge them because they look scruffy and sleep under a bridge. Everyone has a story, she said, and you don’t know theirs. During the winter, she stored scarves and hats in her car and passed them out to shivering Buffalonians lingering on street corners.
“It’s not all about you.” Sometimes when she read scripture, she made a point of saying, “The Hebrew Scripture is in the front of the Bible and the New Testament in the back.” Long-time members wondered why she was telling us something so basic. A pastor has to minister to all the people sitting in the pews, she explained later. Some are from different or no church backgrounds and so they need the guidance. No, indeed, it is not all about you …
“Don’t think you have to be part of every argument you’re invited to.” Two of my closest friends are from college days, but the other two haven’t talked to each other in 10 years. I’m the one who is still friends with both. Every once in a while Mary will ask, “Have you heard from Elaine recently?”
“Oh, I got a card for my birthday. Say, is this the year Dan retires? What are your plans?” Deflecting the inevitable stories about the hurts they inflicted on each other has become an art form for me. I turn down the invitation to argue about which side I am on or who was right.
That is the nice thing about my pastor’s sayings – their meanings continue to evolve and add substance to the experiences I have every day.
One of her favorite characters was Eeyore, the bedraggled gray donkey in “Winnie the Pooh.” She pointed out that even though he was not a happy soul, and was even a bit odd, his friends loved and accepted him just the way he was.
I have a couple of Eeyores in my own life. I will try hard to have their backs, give them the benefit of the doubt, realize it is not all about me and back out of arguments about who is right. And hope they – and others – will do the same for me.