Saturday, July 31, 2010

An unexpected gift from an unexpected corner

I received a gift earlier this week. I've been looking for the words to explain this. A little background first:

Last Sunday, Lori and I went to the Diocese of Virginia Roslyn retreat center in Richmond for annual training to lead our Education for Ministry (EfM) groups. This was my 14th EfM training, and Lori has been to at least that many.

This may sound like an excessive number of trainings, but we enjoy going every summer. EfM offers the best small group training there is.

I always learn something, and I enjoy meeting others who are involved leading EfM groups. And with EfM, I have long since learned to expect the unexpected.

So it was that the unexpected hit me in the first 10 minutes when an elderly gentleman walked into the room to join our training group. I didn’t pay this gentleman much notice at first; I didn’t notice his name badge until Lori nudged me and whispered “that’s Jerry Warren.”

I did a double take. Years ago I had once worked for a Jerry Warren – yes that Jerry Warren.

Gerald L. Warren had been the editor-in-chief of The San Diego Union in the 1980s when I was a reporter there. I knew Jerry then as an affable guy with a dry sense of humor, but like all editors-in-chief I worked for, not someone I would call close. True, I had brought him cigars from Havana after having chased a story to Cuba for his newspaper. But mostly reporters and senior editors don’t travel in the same circles, at least I didn’t. He had a glass office, I had metal desk in a newsroom.

Besides, we had very different backgrounds. Before he was editor-in-chief at The Union, Jerry Warren had been the chief spokesman for President Richard Nixon in his final months at the White House. My resume was more modest. I had been an executive intern in the Nixon administration in 1973, but someone must have checked my voter registration and they had put me as far from the West Wing as possible: assigning me to the home office of the Peace Corps.

I had not seen Jerry Warren in 25 years. And now here he was in my EfM training group.
We are not supposed to break confidentiality from EfM training groups, and I won’t here. But I mention all this because sometimes years do make a difference, and life’s journeys can be filled with unexpected turns that bring us back into the same room again. I was privileged for the next three days to share our life stories, read Scripture together, and pray with my old editor, and I feel enormously blessed and enriched by the experience.

Jerry, who now lives in Northern Virginia, gave me a great gift of insight this past week. This insight may seem obvious to you, but it hit me over the head like a ton of bricks. The insight is this: It is worth it, very worth it, to keep up with the circle of people who mean the most to you in life.

We may move from place to place (I never thought I’d be in Virginia, after all), but we are so much richer by going the extra mile to be with those people who mean the most to us. Our experiences together don’t end just because we are thousands of miles apart.

Since moving to Virginia Lori and I have made many new and wonderful friends here, people I pray will be with us for many years to come. Yet, as many of you know, we have devoted considerable time and expense to periodically go back to California to be with family and friends there.

This past week, I know better why that is worth it to do. It took seeing someone I hadn’t seen in 25 years to get it. Our stories continue to shape each other no matter where we live. We are still supported and transformed by our communities even when those communities are spread across time and space. I left Sacramento two years ago, the community of journalists 13 years ago. I've worked for three newspapers in my career, and since leaving San Diego 25 years ago, I’ve been in six church communities; all three papers and all six churches, and the people in them, remain deeply imbedded in me.*

No one is left behind.

The people who have been the most important to me are still important to me now. It is crucial to be with them from time to time; to share a meal, swap stories, go to a high school graduation, catch up and go fishing. Home is where the heart is, and my heart is with many, many wonderful loving people who I will treasure always. Friends matter. Even old editors.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:34).

Art by Sandra Braznell.

*Since you asked: The Riverside Press-Enterprise (twice); The San Diego Union; and The Sacramento Bee. Churches: St. Timothy's, Danville CA; Trinity Cathedral, Sacramento CA; Faith Church, Cameron Park, CA; St. Luke's, Auburn, CA; All Souls Parish, Berkeley, CA; St. Paul's Memorial Church, Charlottesville, VA.

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