Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A story of drugs, sleeping around and unknown identities

On All Saints Day, after church activities, I headed for the hills. Every year the Lutheran and Moravian professional holy women in North Carolina have a three-day retreat. It's a marvelous get-away filled with conversation and laughter. (Yes, there's a little alcohol mixed in, too.) This year we met at Laurel Ridge, which is a Moravian Camp with a to-die-for view that is achieved by driving up a cork-screw road to the top of a mountain. It rained the whole time, but still, knowing the view was out there somewhere was comforting.

Two women led our time together: Dr. Katherine Shaner, an ELCA pastor who teaches New Testament at Wake Forest Divinity, and Kay Ward, who is a Moravian bishop and well-known author. Katherine's sessions led us to consider circles of saints who fill our lives, beginning with ourselves, then naming women who have influenced us, and then women in the Scriptures. Finally, we considered those who are unnamed, both in the biblical story and in our own stories. It heightened my awareness of the unnamed, and I spent some time pondering those who are unintentionally unnamed persons in my life, the ones whose names I would like to know but have remained unknown because of circumstances, and the ones whose names are unknown to me by intention, the ones who quite honestly don't matter enough to me that I would care to know their names. Hmmmm.

Well, I was having a great time until the wee-wee hours on the morning of the last day. That's when I was awakened by excruciating pain in my shoulder. I wanted to cry, the pain was so great. I made it to breakfast and happened to sit beside Kay. I mentioned my pain and asked if she had any NSAIDS with her. I had definitely asked the right person. She whipped out a days-of-the-week pill dispenser. In one compartment was aspirin, in another Advil, then Ibuprofen, Tylenol, Aleve... "What would you like?" she asked. I decided on Aleve. "They're small. Take two," she said. So I popped them in my mouth and hoped for the best.

About 30 minutes later I was relieved that I felt no pain. All was well! But then, as I was sitting in the morning circle, all of a sudden I was so sleepy that I was afraid I might fall face down onto the floor. That's when I realized that wasn't just any Aleve. It was Aleve PM. Lord, have mercy! I stumbled out of the room, landed on a couch in the lobby, and I was out.

There was a woman there from the camp who had been waiting on us hand and foot. She truly had the gift of hospitality. When she saw me on the couch, she came to me and asked if I needed help, if I wanted to go to a room with a bed... "I just want to sleep!" I snapped her. Then as I was dozing I felt someone place a blanket over me and, without opening my eyes, I knew it was this kind Moravian servant who wouldn't let me sleep.

My clergy sisters came and got me to lunch. Somehow I made it, and I was able to chew my food, although I could very easily have laid my head on my plate and slept in my pasta. (Have I mentioned that I am VERY sensitive to sleep meds? And I took TWO of those things!) After lunch, everyone was going home. What was I going to do? 

Three of us were there from Charlotte and we all had driven ourselves, of course, so I couldn't get a ride back. I clearly couldn't drive myself, not if I expected to live. I could take a nap and leave before dark, but I knew that the drug would still be working on me after a few hours. So, it seemed that the only logical solution was to stay in the lodge, get my sleep, and leave in the morning. We all agreed that would be the best thing. The staff would be leaving, so I would be all alone with no food service. My clergy sisters prepared me a plate of snacks, handed it to me, and they were on their way. Almost all of them.

As I stood with my food provisions in my hand, hoping to soon be in a bed, my dear friend Susan Bame and the Moravian servant approached me. "We're going to take you back to Charlotte," they informed me. Despite my objections--I couldn't put them out like that, it would mean at least four hours of time in the car in addition to the drive they already had to get home--they convinced me that it was the best solution. The Moravian servant would drive my car, Susan would drive hers, and after they left me in Charlotte, they would drive back up the mountain together before going home. Okay. We could do this.

And then it dawned on me. A woman is going to be driving my car with me in the passenger seat for a couple of hours and I DON'T KNOW HER NAME! Up until this point, her name hadn't mattered to me. So, I asked Susan, "What is her name?" She didn't know. The two of us began asking everyone we saw, "What is her name?" No one knew. Finally, we found someone who told us her name was Betty. Okay. Betty was driving my car to Charlotte with me in it, konked out in the passenger seat.

So, when we finally got to Charlotte, as Betty was about to get out of my car to get into the car with Susan for a couple of hours and ride back up the mountain, she turned to me and whispered apologetically, "Can you tell me what her name is?" How perfect was that?

Names. In some ways they aren't all that important. These two saints banded together to minister to me in a crisis and neither knew the name of the other. And yet, as the one they helped, I'm grateful to know both their names.

As a postscript to this blog... Yesterday I received a sweet note in the mail from dear Kay, the woman who gave me the Aleve PM. She wrote, "It isn't often that an upstanding Lutheran pastor gets drugged by a Moravian bishop." Of course she didn't mean to drug me, but it makes for a good story!

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