Sunday, July 6, 2008

Forrest Church and Learning to Fall

We have all suffered, and will suffer, our own falls. The fall from youthful ideals, the waning of physical strength, the failure of a cherished hope, the loss of our near and dear, the fall into injury or sickness, and late or soon, the fall to our certain ends. We have no choice but to fall, and little say as to the time or the means.

Perhaps, however, we do have some say in the manner of our falling.

These words, from Philip Simmons’ beautiful little book Learning to Fall: Blessings of an Imperfect Life (Bantam, 2003), have stuck with me from the first time I read them. Perhaps no better of example of someone choosing the manner of their falling is Forrest Church.

On February 23, 2008, the Rev. Dr. Forrest Church announced to his congregation that his cancer had returned – and was terminal. His receipt of the Distinguished Service Award at General Assembly on June 28 could not have been a better match for the public life he has lived. Creator of such memorable quotes as “The opposite of love is not hate, but fear” and “Religion is our human response to the dual reality of being alive and having to die”, Church served The Unitarian Church of All Souls In New York city for 30 years and has written at least 20 books. As Church accepted the award, we all knew he was dying. His strong spirit brought to mind Yeats’ words about the soul “fastened to a dying animal”.

One small thing stands out to me about the presentation of the award – Roger Thompson, trustee from the recently-merged Northeast District, was the Board member who presented it with President Bill Sinkford. Roger is a tall, roughhewn mountain man, with a full beard who is partial to flannel shirts and canvass pants. The Board has never seen him dressed up – but he wore a white suit and tie as a sign of deep respect for Rev. Dr. Church. When I commented on it, he said, “it never occurred to me to do anything else”.

1 comment:

moreover said...

Thanks for bringing up those quotes, always food for thought. Somehow we as a society seem to be brushed with death not very often, or maybe it's just all kept under wraps. I just lost an old family friend with Lou Gehrig's disease, she took part in the lives of others as much as she could handle. We all knew her days were numbered. It made the farewell a little easier (I wrote about it on my blog )