It seems like a long time ago now, but it was really only two or three weeks ago, on a Friday. I had just gotten back from an overnight trip to another congregation in another state, where I met a lot of people and had conversations and ate dinner. On Sunday morning, they would decide whether they wanted to call me as their pastor.
But that Friday morning, after traveling south and meeting the people and coming home again, I officiated at the memorial service for the son of a member of my congregation. I didn't know his son well; he had lived in another state. But I had known this man and his wife for many years. They were old friends of my parents. I used to bring his wife communion. She had died two years earlier.
After the memorial service, and after the luncheon, a few members of the family drove up to the cemetery, on the north end of town. It is the same cemetery where my Swedish grandparents are buried, although I haven't been out there in many years. I rode with the father of the man who died and his daughter. It was a beautiful afternoon.
After the committal service, we walked around the cemetery a little bit. The family got me a map, so that I could come back and find my grandparents' graves, if I wanted to. We walked around and talked about who was buried next to whom.
Then we got back in the car and headed home.
The daughter said to her father, "How should we get home, dad? Which way should we go?" She had lived away for many years, and genuinely needed directions. Her father, sitting in the back seat, told her she should turn right instead of left. He wanted to avoid the highway.
He's legally blind, but he's lived in this community all of his life, and he remembered exactly which roads to take. He gave us directions all the way home, around familiar parkways and through some of the beautiful city parks. "Just keep going," he said, whenever his daughter asked a question.
We began to drive around some of my city's chain of lakes. I hadn't driven by Cedar Lake since I was a child, when my parents would take us swimming there. But there we were, and after that we drove around Lake of the Isles too. We came to Lake Calhoun, and another of the beaches where I used to swim, as a child. I took my first swimming lessons at one of those beaches. I got an ear infection afterwards, too. But I learned to float, so there's that.
I thought to myself that this was just the right thing to be doing this afternoon: taking the scenic route, after the funeral. I couldn't tell them that in a couple of months I might be moving away from the lakes and rivers and parks that had been my home for so many years. I couldn't tell them that this just seemed like the right way to spend the afternoon.
I couldn't tell them why it was such a gift, taking the scenic route.
I have always thought that I was formed, at least in part, by this particular geography -- the city lakes. I have been formed by the water, this particular water. There's a great river that runs through my city, but when I lived in Japan, I didn't particularly miss the Mississippi River. I missed the lakes.
So we took the scenic route that day. Because I wasn't driving, I could take time to notice things I never noticed, and to remember. I could remember the earache and what it was like to learn to float. I could remember picnics on the beach, and walks around the lake, and the time (when I was a young woman) that a single dad sent his two young daughters over to where I was sunbathing to ask me out (so long ago that was).
Most of the time, I confess, I do not take the scenic route. I am anxious to get where I am going, and I am afraid that I will be late. But every once in awhile, even during these past two weeks, I will take a small detour, and pay attention, and remember. I will look at a picture, or some words on a page. I will hear a few notes of music, or hold a construction paper heart in my hand, and for a moment, I will allow myself to float. I will take the scenic route.