During the past few weeks as I thought about the impending death of our former ministerial intern, Elizabeth Tarbox, I remembered an Easter meditation that Elizabeth wrote during her internship at First Parish Norwell more than a decade ago. We published it in a booklet of her meditations and prayers entitled "A Leaning Out: Meditations Of A Trilobite Poet." She was utterly taken by surprise when we presented the book to her. She had no idea we were doing it and she was visibly moved and pleased. She had thought about doing it herself and presenting it to the church in Norwell. But instead we published it and presented it to Elizabeth as an act of love and pride in her emerging ministry. Many of the meditations were later published in the two UUA collections, but the one I had in mind has never been republished. It seems so fitting to the way Elizabeth Tarbox tried to live her life and how she faced death that I would like to share it with you. Here is what she wrote:
Easter is a story of hope and miracles. The rain came on Friday and all night it swept and pounded our yard and the wind rattled our shutters as I expect it did yours. And by morning there was a fair sized puddle covering half of our yard. And here is the miracle. From out of somewhere came the ducks. They must be waiting, out there, out of our sight, for we never see them a moment before Easter. They know when our puddle is back and they bless us with their presence. They are a pair, and they take their spring vacation at our place and turn a rain-puddled back yard into a splendid legitimate duck pond. And sometime before egg laying they are gone. They seem to know the pond won't stay, that it's a vacation spot not a permanent home. But they celebrate Easter with us. They bring God to our garden.
Easter is a story of hope and returning life. It is also a story of sorrow, and loneliness. Before the dawn of resurrection there is the night of despair....On our way to the garden let us take time to be with the loneliness of the empty tomb.
I used to stand in the doorway of the tomb, staring into the chilly darkness with the dawn sparkling behind me, poised between death and life, never quite embracing either. But I learned to walk into the dark and stay there, quietly listening. And I thought I saw a child in the corner, shivering. And in her hand she held a withered seed.
"Who are you?"
"I am your tears and your sorrows," she said, "I am hurts unhealed and the realized fears, the regrets unforgiven and the longings ever unfulfilled."
"But it's time to celebrate, I protested. "Come, I can lead you out of here, let's join the dance of life in the garden." But she said, "I live here."
We find God in strange places. The child that is part of me will always live there, the death of my life, to be recognized and embraced, visited and loved. And I will go to her from time to time, and never again forget her. But the resurrection is for the living and I can choose life--the bloom of crocuses in the first light of Easter morning, perfectly shaped like tear drops in royal robes of purple and gold; the hint of red that heralds the tender buds of the maple leaves too new to be green. The sunlight slanting over the pre-dawn garden making rain-drops into diamonds in the trees, dancing like silver fire on the restless surface of the water where the ducks paddle and wag their tails back and forth.
May you find God in the darkness of the tomb and in the breath of the garden, in the aching sadness of the good-byes that will last forever and the impudent greeting of the mallards on their honeymoon. May God bless you in the loneliness of your Good Fridays and in the togetherness of your Easter Sundays. May this community of love stand with you in the night and dance with you in the dawn.
As you can see, the above reading is vintage Elizabeth. I couldn't help thinking of it again as I seek to come to terms with the reality of her deathto "recognize, embrace, visit and love her" in the midst of her death and dying (as so many of you and others have tried to do), and to "never again forget her"to remember, as she herself wrote, that resurrection is for the living" and that it is our continuing challenge to "choose life" as she would have us. Though her death does not come in the spring it is nevertheless her Good Friday and Easter, and the community of love that gathers in her memory stands together with her in the night and dances together with her in the dawn.
I had my last visit with Elizabeth Tarbox a couple of days before her death. She was heavily sedated and not fully conscious. I held her hand for a time and then spoke softly in her ear. She seemed to stir when I spoke. I said: "My dear friend, when next we meet it will be in the Spirit in Gods own time. Thank you for all you that you are and have given. I love you and will never forget you. God bless you and keep you." I kissed her gently on the forehead and bid her good bye. Carl Sandburg put it this way:
Gather the stars if you wish it so.
Gather the songs and keep them.
Gather the faces of women and men.
Gather for keeping years and years.
And then. . .
Loosen your hands, let go and say good-by.