Time for an Update

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Updates at 9:57 pm by Libbie

It seems that a lot has happened in the month since I wrote last. Nothing critical or earth-shaking, so you can feel free to stop reading, but if you’re interested in ordinary news about how and what we have been doing, here it is:

A few days after Alden got home from Spain, he, Eowyn and I drove up to New England and visited my oldest sister. This was especially a treat, because we don’t get to see her very often and had never been to the house she and her husband currently live in north of Bangor, Maine. As prearranged, we picked up two little kittens from her who have become part of our family. (Pictures forthcoming, hopefully.) Then we drove to see my parents in Vermont. The plan had been to help them get to a family reunion in Massachusetts, but my dad’s health ended up making that impossible, so we just stayed at their house. It was great to see them.

Right after we got back here, Eowyn left for a week in NYC to attend a “summit” with 34 other high school kids who are concerned about global hunger, poverty, etc. They stayed at Adelphia University on Long Island, and of course the taste of college life suited her to a T. The kids visited the UN, met Ishmael Beah (former child soldier in Sierra Leone and author of “A Long Way Gone”), and learned a lot while having a good time.

Then the day after Eowyn got back from New York she and Alden left with kids from our church to spend a week in a tough section of North Philly doing kids’ clubs and helping with practical needs there. Becky joined them too, taking her vacation week to do so, which still amazes me. It was a really good week for all of them, even though they all came home sick.

During the week of the N. Philly trip we celebrated three birthdays: Becky (7/31), Lauren (8/2), and Alasdair (8/5). Actually, Alasdair got to preach at our church on his 25th birthday, and he did a great job. The passage was a tough one—the second half of Matthew 10—but I thought he did a really good job expounding it. What a thrill to hear your own child explaining the Word of God and bringing it to bear on life! I stayed for both services to hear it again. Becky, Eowyn and Alden all slipped home from the city early to be there to hear him too.

Also during the week that the kids were in Philly Jayne and I tackled clearing out Al’s office at Westminster. Just for my own curiosity I measured the stuff that was in the little office, so let me rattle off some statistics to give you a sense of what we faced: if we had stacked up the piles of papers that were not in file cabinets but were on top of things, under the chairs, etc., the pile would have been twelve and a half feet (~3,8 m) high. (Just FYI, one foot [~30,5 cm] of stacked paper weighs about 30 lbs [13,6 k].) There were 16 file drawers, all full, which would equal another 32 feet (9,75 m) of papers if vertically stacked, 75 shelf-feet (22,9 m) of books, plus 10 more boxes of books, ~20 shelf-feet (~5,9 m) of journals, 23 stacking trays, office supplies, etc., etc. It was daunting. But Jayne gave me the courage to begin, as well as the encouragement to keep going and great practical advice for evaluating files, and we plowed through all the papers not in drawers on Monday and all the ones in the drawers on Tuesday and Wednesday. We finished up the office supplies and miscellaneous things by lunchtime on Thursday. During the week, some of the library staff had mentioned that Al had some things in the large storage closet in the basement, so we went down to take a look at it on Thursday afternoon. Oh man. There was as much material there as there had been in the whole office! I was overwhelmed, but Jayne fortified me again with her seemingly unquenchable determination and enthusiasm. In the end, we hauled out 35 file boxes (plus two huge trash bags), and we just finished by closing time on Friday. Phew! It was a colossal job, but—except for the books—it is done. And Alasdair and I went through the books this past Wednesday, so now once we actually remove the books from the office and take the pictures and diplomas and whatnot off the walls, the place will be empty.

By Wednesday afternoon my brain was fried from sorting literally tens of thousands of pieces of paper, but for most of the project, I was so intent on the task of sifting through the mountains of papers that I didn’t have time to be preoccupied with the grief and finality of what we were doing. But there were a couple of moments when the sadness got to me. One was when I started on Monday morning. The first piece of paper I picked up was a quiz from some course or other, just like hundreds of others I have seen over the years: a verse of Hebrew printed at the top and the simple instructions: “Translate and parse all verbs.” I have been seeing such papers around the house for so long (and using them as scrap paper—in fact Becky told us recently that she was pretty old before she found out that “scrap paper” didn’t necessarily have to have Hebrew on one side) that they seem part and parcel of our life. And they were so Al. It made me miss him, and the tears started flowing. I was afraid it was going to be an impossibly long week. But just at that moment Al’s colleague Mike Kelly walked in, so we cried together. Also, one day during that week I received a book in the mail that is the most recently released volume in a series that Al and Tremper Longman were editing together (“The Gospel According to the Old Testament” series; this volume is “The Gospel According to David” by Mark Boda). Inside it was a tribute from Tremper to Al that made (and still makes) me cry every time I read it. So I had to purposely not think about that tribute as I was working. The third hard moment came toward the end of the week. Jayne and I found a note on top of the bookcase by the door. It obviously was one that Al kept handy there to put up on the door when he had to step out to the bathroom or down the hall to check his mail or something. It said simply, in big bold letters, “Back in Five Minutes.” Oh my. Tears again. When I showed it to Al’s administrative assistant later, she commented that once Al and I are together again it will probably seem as if it’s been only five minutes. I think she’s right. I saved the sign and am going to put it up in my closet or somewhere as a reminder of that time to look forward to.

On a similar note, earlier in July the kids were asking me something specific from the period when Al and I were engaged, and as I told them the story and thought back to those days I missed him intensely. For the next week or ten days I found that grief and tears were always just barely below the surface and that it took nothing at all to make them spill over. But that’s perfectly appropriate, and while not always exactly convenient, and while it sometimes made other people feel awkward because they thought they were responsible for my tears, it was okay.

This weekend I was supposed to go to a wedding in Chicago. Twenty-some years ago we became very good friends with a couple from Zimbabwe who were here at Westminster. They have a son Alasdair’s age and a daughter Becky’s age who were born while they were here, and except for when their daughter visited us for a few days two years ago (which was great fun), I haven’t seen them in 22 years, so I was so excited about seeing them in Chicago. But Thursday I spent 13 hours at Philadelphia airport and never got off the ground. We should have been able to take off several hours before the bad weather moved in from the west, but the airport had only one runway open for some reason (word from the pilot was that they were painting lines on the other runway, although why they were doing it right then he couldn’t imagine, and I hope it is not true or I suspect someone will be minus a job, if not a head), so planes were backed up 30 or 40 deep. Eventually the predicted storms moved in from the west, so departure routes would be alternately opened and then shut down, so after four hours of sitting in the plane on the tarmac, when we were finally number 1 in line, we taxied back to the gate, and then the flight was canceled. So were the next two to Chicago, and then there were 100 people (including me) on standby for the two late night flights, of whom they took zero. No airline had available seats to Chicago on Friday and only a few on Saturday, by which time the wedding would have already happened, so I came home, 16 and a half hours after I had left in the morning. I heard the next day that hundreds of people had had to sleep in the terminal that night. Needless to say I am disappointed not to have seen my dear friends, but they and I accepted that the Lord must have had other plans for other reasons. Maybe if the air traffic controllers had let us take off into the storms we would have crashed. I have no doubt that, if not in this case, at least at some times God protects us from things that we are not even aware of. We tend to complain about the inconvenience and never even realize that it is because he is watching over us.
The up side of not getting to Chicago is that because I was home I was able to see a friend of Al’s from Dartmouth cross-country days, who is a priest in the Redemptorist Order of the Catholic Church and who teaches at the Pontifical Institute in Rome. We had such a wonderful, sweet visit. He told me stories about Al from the time before Al and I met–stories of running, and of friendship and of growing faith–and he told me about a way he wants to honor Al that I know would absolutely “bless Al’s socks off.” I’ll tell you about it when it happens. I also got to have more time than expected with our sort-of-adopted-son Andy (see numerous photos from last year when he lived with Alasdair and Lauren), who is in town for the weekend.

And that about brings you up to date. As Marc Davis, one of our pastors, reminded us in a sermon recently, we live in that time between the Friday night rehearsal and the Saturday afternoon wedding, between Jesus’ resurrection and our own, when there is sorrow and pain but also immense joy to look forward to. It may be hard, and tears are appropriate, but the Lord’s presence and the anticipation of joy make this a good place to live nonetheless.

Glad you’re here with us,