The other night my mother called and left me a message. She mentioned a name -- the name of someone I knew a long long ago. One of a couple that were my parents' friends for many years. She told me that he had died, and that his funeral would be this Friday.
When she said the name, I felt suddenly transported to my childhood. I began to remember my parents' circle of friends. I have known them all for over fifty years. A few of them had been childhood friends of my father; they went to Sunday school and confirmation together. They were part of a group for newly married couples, called (of all things) the Merry Mates.
After a few years, none of them attended the same church anymore. They had moved out to the suburbs and joined other churches. But they continued to get together for social events: birthdays, summer picnics, camping, Christmas parties. There were informal concerts put on by some of the children. There was the annual "Wizard of Oz" movie viewing event, complete with the children's re-enactment after the movie was over. A couple of times I remember bringing along pajamas and going to sleep on someone else's floor; later on we woke up and were carried out to our car to go home to our own beds.
One of the couples later became missionaries to Papua, New Guinea. My Barbie dolls, dressed up, played a featured role in the decorations for their going-away party.
One of my first arguments about contemporary worship was with one of my parents' friends. I thought we should have a lot of 'new songs', like in Psalm 98. "Sing to the Lord a new song!" She said she didn't really feel like she was worshipping if she had to work hard learning all of the notes and words. At the time, I didn't really know where she was coming from. Now, even though I still love learning new songs, I also know the special gift of singing what you know by heart, as well.
Two of the friends eventually became estranged. One of them has a daughter who is gay; the other believes that being gay is against God's will. My mother remains friends with both of them.
When I think back, these were the people who raised me, not just my own parents, but all of these other couples. They set examples for me: not of heroism, but of kindness. They did not make fun of the children. They were faithful to their friends. They weren't perfect. But they were good.
The people who raised me are dying. One of the men had Parkinsons, like my dad. One of the women had cancer. Another of the women has Alzheimers. Her husband stays with her every day. I remember when I was in Japan, he wrote me letters. She told me, "I would write to you, but if I did, he would stop, and I think it's good he writes."
The people who raised me are dying. They taught me what it meant to be human, to laugh, to listen, not to make fun of the children, to be kind.
They showed me what faithfulness looks like, like a small ordinary thing, rare as a diamond, beautiful as an autumn maple leaf.
The people who raised me are dying. May they live forever.