Sunday, January 5, 2014

my year to fly

i generally don't remember my dreams, but this one was amazing and remembering it is a gift.

it's snowmaggedden here in st. louis. everything is shut down because of the snow and extreme cold.

in my dream i stepped outside to see the snow and was surprised to find just a light dusting on the ground. walking out into the yard for a better look, i quickly found out why: the wind had blown it all away.

this unbelievable wind picked me up and carried me away, up over the city. but not our city. i was in dallas--flying over a city i know, but don't know because i haven't lived there in such a long time.

this feeling of flying was beyond anything i've ever experienced. no fear, no concern, just freedom and lightness. i wasn't cold, even though it was winter and snowing. i wasn't scared even though i didn't know where i was and the wind was blowing me aimlessly around.

at some point i realized i could actually steer myself. i found my way back to my neighborhood and back to my home. then i woke up.

i wonder why i didn't go exploring. i wonder why i didn't take the long way around. maybe i just needed to make sure i could get home and i was going to go back out flying again later. i don't know.

i think 2014 will be my year to fly. i don't know exactly what that means. i'll figure that out as i go along. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

String Theory, or Sally's Sermon

This is the sermon I preached at Sally's memorial service. Please understand that sermons are meant to be heard, not read. I know the grammar is not great, but I don't always speak the way I would formally write. You'll have to get over it. Also, my sermons are conversational. I imagine the sermon I actually preached is not verbatim what is written here, so this isn't an actual transcript. What you'll read is simply the manuscript I brought into the pulpit with me. So here it is in black and white. Love you, Sal.

On behalf of Sally’s family I thank you for coming today.

I stand here in a very odd place. Nobody should bury someone so young. No parent should bury a child. I shouldn’t bury my sister until I’m old and grey and we’ve done all the things we were supposed to do. A husband should have more time with his wife. Nobody should witness such a tragedy. Sally isn’t with us.  I think we are all confused and sad and angry that something like this could happen. All those are valid emotions.

Sally isn’t with us. We are here in a very odd place; this location; a church. A place we wouldn’t be if Sally were with us. Sally wasn’t religious. But Sally would have wanted a place for us to get together to mourn and celebrate her life.

Sally didn’t really believe in a higher power. Jay said string theory was maybe the closest she got to something holding the universe together. So I spent some time trying to figure out string theory. But I’ve never been as smart as Sally. It seemed my only solution was to hit the internet. But site after site had me more confused until I found a Ted Talk with Physicist Brian Greene in which he explained superstring theory: the idea that miniscule strands of energy vibrating in 11 dimensions create every particle and force in the universe. God Bless Ted Talk. That makes total sense, Right?

As I think about Sally, String Theory finally makes sense. Brian Green explains String Theory this way:
“Well, it's a theory that tries to answer the question: what are the basic, fundamental, indivisible, uncuttable constituents making up everything in the world around us? The idea is like this.”
So we look down through the atom, past its electrons and into the protons and neutrons to the quarks and there, inside the quarks is where we find the strings.
Green continues:
“Here is the new idea of string theory. Deep inside any of these particles, there is something else. This something else is this dancing filament of energy. It looks like a vibrating string -- that's where the idea, string theory comes from. And just like the vibrating strings …in a cello can vibrate in different patterns, these can also vibrate in different patterns. They don't produce different musical notes. Rather, they produce the different particles making up the world around us. So if these ideas are correct, this is what the ultra-microscopic landscape of the universe looks like. It's built up of a huge number of these little tiny filaments of vibrating energy, vibrating in different frequencies. The different frequencies produce the different particles. The different particles are responsible for all the richness in the world around us.
When you study the mathematics of string theory, you find that it doesn't work in a universe that just has three dimensions of space. It doesn't work in a universe with four dimensions of space, nor five, nor six. Finally, you can study the equations, and show that it works only in a universe that has 10 dimensions of space and one dimension of time.”

Sally was someone that was always going. In 11 dimensions at once it sometimes seemed. But in all her movement, she was the glue that held everyone together. Once again, let me remind you that I’m no scientist. But I want you to think of an atom. It has a certain number of neutrons and protons in its nucleus. And then there are quarks inside each proton and each neutron. And inside of those quarks are strings. And the strings hold everything together.

So let’s take a minute to imagine our world as it has been with Sally in it. Imagine Sally as the center of the Universe. We all know how much she would like to be remembered as the center of our universe, right?
Maybe let’s let Sally be a molecule. Some nice chunky, big molecule. 
Let’s imagine that Sally is that molecule.
Each of her different groups of family and friends are a different element that makes up that molecule.
And each one of us is either a proton or a neutron of an individual atom of that element. (We’re leaving the negativity of the electrons out.) Deep down inside of each of us is a quark with a string inside it, moving in 11 dimensions in its own pattern.
We are all so unique, but Sally was able to see something in each of us, something important and lovable in each of us, some string in each of us that brought us all together today to be part of her molecule.

Sally had a way of doing that. Sally was a curator of love.

Now I don’t know what any of your faith backgrounds are. And in all honesty it doesn’t matter to me. And it didn’t matter to me that Sally wasn’t a Christian. And it wouldn’t have bothered me if she was Buddhist or Muslim or Jewish or Taoist. It didn’t matter to me that Sally was a “non-believer.”
In John Green’s book, Looking for Alaska, the main character, “Pudge,” is required to take a religion class. On the first day, the profession poses these questions to his class:
“What is the nature of being a person? What is the best way to go about being a person? How did we come to be and what will become of us when we are no longer? In short, what are the rules of this game and how might we best play it?”

I don’t know the answer to all those questions. I think it takes a lifetime to ponder them and I imagine I will probably never fully understand. I do think Sally worked hard at finding the rules of the game and I believe Sally played it well.

When we look at the basic tenants of all great religions, they can be boiled down to one thing: Love. In the Judeo-Christian tradition it is summed up in the great commandment: Love the Lord your God with all you heart and mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself. And living a life of love is about living life in community.

Sally played the game of life well. She loved extraordinarily. Sally had a knack for reading people. She had a way of knowing what you needed even before you did. And she had a way of telling you what that was without nagging. Ok, sometimes she nagged.

Sally was an extraordinary colleague. She worked vigorously at everything she believed in and everything she loved.

She was an extraordinary friend. She had a gift for entertaining. She could bring people from different world together and make them feel like old friends almost instantly.

She was an extraordinary wife. Aside from nurturing a beautiful relationship, she trademarked the Husby Award. I’m not sure how often this coveted award for best husband was given, or how many nominees there actually were, but Jay Holland was always the winner, and deservedly so. I always wanted a brother, and she picked the best one I could have asked for and a wonderful uncle for my children. She was never happier in her life than she was with Jay. We deserve many more years with you in our lives.

She was an extraordinary sister. We made up the game “stick together sisters” when we were little. You’ve seen those time out shirts on facebook where two fighting kids are made to wear the same giant t-shirt. Wouldn’t have worked on us. We would stand next to each other and press our arms together (not actually holding on) and run around the living room in circles until we’d fall down dizzy. Sally would have made time-out a game.
Sally and I looked more like each other than we did either of our parents. People often thought we were twins, a illusion perpetuated by our mom’s insistence that we dress alike. We both praised the day we no longer had to wear the same clothes.
In recent years however, we began buying each other matching presents again: one pair of earrings to split between us for our extra holes in our ears. Matching skirts or other beautiful pieces of clothing—ok because we lived in different cities and it didn’t matter if we wore them at the same time. One of our favorite things to do together was go thriftshopping. She had a way of seeing something that looked Gawd-Awful on a hanger and knowing it would fit perfectly.

For a while I felt like Sally was my rival. I don't know that she meant to antagonize me, but that was my perception. She was friends with everyone, including my high school friends. But she stuck up for me when it was important. On my 18th birthday I took us to the mall to get our ears double pierced. When I got in trouble with our parents for standing my ground—I was 18 and it was perfectly legal for me to get my ear double pierced, she came in and said, “Just tell them you were wrong. You don’t have to mean it.” Talk about playing the game of life well.
When we got to college that began to change. The animosity was suddenly gone. Being at the same college allowed us to share many important experiences. She was a freshman when I was a junior. When we went through sorority rush, I wanted to badly to tell her to join Kappa Kappa Gamma with me at Tulane, but I was afraid that if I did, she would do the opposite. Thankfully she was smart enough to make the right decision without my words of wisdom and chose Kappa.

Sally has known my husband Chris almost as long as I have, and since Chris is an only child, she really was his sister. Often times I thought she liked him more than she liked me, and vice versa, as evidenced by the many opportunities they took to gang up on me. The two of them got along extremely well. They could match each other’s wit and I think Sally liked having a sparring partner. Sally honored us by standing as Maid of Honor in our wedding and is our daughter Sarah, her namesake’s, Godmother. When our Sarah was little she couldn’t say “Sally,” so her name came out as “Sassy.” That was perhaps the best Freudian truth of a nickname that ever there was. She was the best Aunt Sassy any kids could have. She told me once that she loved being Aunt Sassy. Not just to my children, but also to yours,’ Sarah, Leslie and Joy.

Sally and I had recently been making a lot of plans. We never pulled punches with each other. We said it like it was, to and about each other and everything else. When Sally visited in May she looked at my feet and politely told me I needed a pedicure. I politely told her that if she watched my 3 children for a day I’d be happy to take the time to get one. We were making plans for our trip to visit her and Jay for Christmas Vacation. We also had schemes for what to do with our parents when they needed to be sent up the river. I sure hope she sends me guidance, and most of all patience, when that time comes. I’m not sure how I’ll manage that one by myself.

And of course there was her amazing quick wit. You couldn’t know Sally for 5 minutes without experiencing it. I firmly believe that Sally’s humor will continue to bring us joy for a long time to come. She’ll whisper the perfect come-back in our ear at just the right moment, or will nudge us just in time to see something hysterical. Case in point: Jay and I were wondering if French people had embraced the mullet. We watched all day as we walked through Strasbourg. At the end of the day as we approached the hotel we figured the French must be much more savvy than we Americans. Jus then we saw the most spectacular mullet in history. I kid you not. I am convinced that Sally put that man there for our entertainment.

                  John 12:24-25 The Message
“Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.”

I don’t know anyone more reckless in her love than Sally. It is horrible that she is dead to this world. It is terrible that she is buried in the ground. We don’t want to think of her that way: Dead to the world and buried in the ground. But in this passage from John we are assured that her love will sprout and reproduce itself many times over. All of us who knew her and were touched by her are the agents through which her love is spread. She was a part of us—IS a part of us and remains a part of us. When we think of her and tell stories of her, her love is reproduced. When the little bits of her humor come out of our mouths, her love is reproduced. When we tell people about her, her love is reproduced. When we dress up for a Mardi Gras parade or a costume party, her love is reproduced. Whenever we love recklessly, her love is reproduced.

Sally would be overwhelmed by all the people here today. But I’m not, because Sally never met a stranger. She did her best to make an impact in the lives of people she knew. Sal was an amazing soul.

Sally always had an opinion for every subject and something wise to add to every conversation, so here’s what I imagine her telling us today: don’t hold on to life too tightly. Throw a party. Have lunch or drinks with a friend. Introduce people to one another. Join everyone and everything you know together with strings so that no matter how many ways and in how many dimensions they vibrate they will still be working together to create something amazing. Be responsible for the richness of the world around us. Be reckless in your love. If you hold on to it tightly you’re selfishly keeping it to yourself. But when you bury the seeds of love in the ground, they will sprout and grow and you’ll have life forever, real and eternal.