Like many of us, there have been times in my life when I have looked up to the heavens, begging whatever divine force may be listening for a sign of what to do, or a portent of what is to come. I have often imagined how marvelous it would be for some clear, unmistakable sign to come down from on high, something so obvious that it would be impossible for us to miss. A neon sign, or perhaps even a “bat signal” would be nice.
Or maybe, a fish in the middle of a city garden.
Last year…May 14, 2013 according to my email…Tyler, who had been singing with me in my choir, sent me a picture of a fish laying in the middle of his city garden. His wife had snapped a photo of this oddity, and they supposed it was a bird of prey that had inadvertently dropped its lunch somewhere between the James River and wherever its nesting grounds were. Tyler sent this photo to two of us in the choir, and our two remaining clergy at that time which was shortly after our Rector had retired. In his email, he wrote, “I am taking this as a sign that the transition at St. Thomas will turn out well.”
At the time I simply thought: interesting. I’m not sure that was where I would have gone if I found a fish in the midst of the yard in my urban dwelling. But, looking at the email thread, I did reply back to him, “maybe we are being given fish to sustain us as we learn to cast our nets into the future and reap the rewards of boldly moving forward in faith.” That may have been a bit of a stretch, but I’m a sucker for potential signs from above so I wanted to latch on to it, truly I did. Since that time…and the subsequent transitioning to new positions of both of those remaining clergy on that particular email thread…I can truly say that I and many others have learned how to cast our nets. We constantly take bold leaps of faith followed up by our dedicated intentions to keep our parish thriving even in the midst of unprecedented transition.
Maybe that fish really was a sign.
These seemingly random events have been rolling through my mind all day. As you may guess, there is another chapter to the story. Yesterday, my choir friend Mary wandered into our robing room with Sunday’s paper in her hand and with a stunned look on her face. She read Tyler’s obituary out loud to us, his sudden death having occurred just a few days earlier. We were stunned.
Tyler had dropped into our singing group, seemingly from out of nowhere himself. I don’t think anyone ever had a solid story of what brought him our way, and we simply enjoyed his voice and his company in our eclectic group of singers. He would ride his bike from his home on one side of the city to our church on the other side, and he would come and go with a detached kindness although never saying very much about himself. It was evident that he was deeply devoted to the city, to the natural environment, to his scouting troop. He was a tall, solidly built person whom one wouldn’t normally assume was a cyclist. But, his bike was his chosen mode of transport no matter what the weather and how dark the night. After singing with us for several months, and just after he sent the aforementioned email, he abruptly sent us all a note to say he would be leaving the choir. He didn’t give much of a reason. He noted that he would likely stop in from time to time, and was grateful for the time he had sung with us. He continued to stop in to church services periodically, always kind and quiet and solitary. I never thought when I saw him a few weeks ago at one of those happen-stance passings of the peace that my next siting would be in the obituary column.
I’m fairly sure there is a bird, fish, and city garden metaphor in here somewhere. Not to mention something about the sudden and jarring nature of loss and transition.
But, tonight, I’m inclined to find a small point of light in this story that isn’t quite so metaphorical. I’m inclined, instead, to be pragmatic. I am grateful this night for all the people, places, and things that seem to drop from the sky. They do not need to be a “bat signal” nor a neon sign from God, but just the simple unknowingness of who and what will cross our paths on any given day. I’m sure there are a thousand people who knew Tyler more and better than I. But, I am grateful he showed up and sang with my choir, and that one day he thought to send me a picture of a fish on his brick walkway with a little phrase of optimistic encouragement. A year later, in my current status of supporting my parish through transition, those words really do feel like a gift. They were a message from the sky, simply appearing from nowhere, a message to remind us that we will be OK because we are a part of something larger and we are walking authentically through a path of understanding how that transition has changed us, and where it is leading us. Things happen. Fish fall. People die. But, we are connected much more deeply than that. Even in our brief encounters, we can touch each other’s souls. The ordinary is transformed to the extraordinary.
Our human lives are comprised of randomness as well as planning, and we are changed by those whose company we select and those who simply show up to cross our paths.
Tyler, thank you for my small point of light today.
In memory of Tyler Potterfield
Here is a picture of Tyler’s fish, as retrieved from my email archives today: