Back in the mid-70’s I worked to elect Jack Mendelsohn to the office of president of our association. Jack had a significant influence on my journey into Unitarianism and then into the ministry.
The night before the election at the General Assembly in Cornell University I had dinner with Bill Schulz and Jack, just the three of us. I had enlisted Bill to work on Jack’s campaign. Over dinner Jack thanked us for our work on his behalf and said, “Well, that’s it. Tomorrow is the election. If I win I’ll be president, and if I don’t I won’t have to be.”
Jack didn’t win, so he didn’t have to be president. He didn’t have to live up to all those promises and expectations. Jack, to his credit, has never stopped working for us.
As I drove to the office I reflected on the congregational meeting we had yesterday resulting in Barbara Fast’s call to serve as our Associate Minister. It was a special moment in the life of our congregation, and in her life. “Now she has to live up to all those expectations,” I thought, “hers and ours.” I told Barbara about Jack’s tongue-in-cheek comment from so many years ago.
Jack lost the election. Bill Schulz would later become president of the UUA. Irony.
Barbara and I talked again today about our shared ministry and the ministry in general. I told her that one of the most difficult lessons for me, which I have to keep learning, is my tendency to promise more than I can deliver.
Examples accumulate in thirty years of working at this calling of ours. Lots of them.
We’ve had several services of dedication of parents and children in recent weeks, and each time I put my hand on a child’s head and say, “…may you find aid in time of trouble, comfort in time of sorrow, and guidance into the ways of truth. We wish for you a full and healthy life and hope that you find joy, and peace, and the satisfaction of years well spent” I have all I can do to get the words out and hold the emotions in.
This morning I finally got to look at yesterday’s New York Times. I was stunned to see the photographs of the Palestinian man desperately clutching his twelve-year old son as they were caught in the cross-fire. He pleaded with the Israeli soldiers, crying out to them, trying to protect his little boy as they huddled together behind cement blocks.
The three-photo sequence, taken with a video camera, lasted only a few horrifying seconds. It was shown on Israeli television. The first two photographs show the absolute terror this little boy is feeling as he clings to his father. The fear on his face is etched into my memory-it’s burned into my soul. In the third photograph the boy lies dead.
I put down the paper and wept. I couldn’t hold it in. “May you find aid…”