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Another great read from Changing Aging contributor Jim Klobuchar:
He was leaving the congregation after serving it for more than a year as an interim pastor. This is a pinch-hitting role seldom coveted by career preachers who become part of the long-term fabric of the spiritual lives of their flock, dedicated equally to the flock’s salvation and the on-time payment the church’s bills.
He was largely unknown when he arrived, an appointee of the church’s regional service office. But he meshed easily and comfortably with the church members, which was basically an older group. He showed up at all of their socials and missions. And remarkably he delivered totally ad lib sermons that paid attention to the here-and-now, yet sparked enough smiles and rapport to make his message clear and credible.
He was, in short, popular, learned and approachable. After a year the congregation made its call to a new fulltime pastor. She was accepted by acclamation and seems destined to be a likeable choice. Approaching the Lenten season in his final service, the interim pastor dutifully followed the church lectionary and chose an appropriate sermon. But there was something else he wanted to say, drawn from his family history. He said it expressed not only his appreciation for having been welcomed into this church on his way toward retirement, but how tenderly that acceptance renewed for him a fundamental truth about our humanity: The need we have for each other.
He told a story. His son had developed a critical heart condition. It was at a time when the by-pass surgery that millions of us have successfully undergone was then years away from the high technology and skills that have made it the almost routine saver of lives that it is today.
His son had critical arterial blockage. It had to be relieved or it was going to be fatal. The operation went for 12 hours. At several stages, the surgeon came out of the operating room to explain to the parents what was being done and what progress was being made. The operation stretched through the day. What is relatively straightforward today was then one crisis after another. At length the surgeon returned to the couple, tired but smiling.
“He’s going to be fine,” he said, and then paused “At one point in the operation,” he said, “for several minutes, I held your son’s heart in the palm of my hand.”
The surgeon seemed awed and humbled by the wonderment of what he had experienced. Their son’s heart, in his hand.
The image seemed equally to move those in the congregation. Something in that story seemed to reawaken a gratitude for humanity when it is at its best, nurturing, caring and supporting. It may also have stirred a twinge of regret for the time of mounting social and political discord in which we lead our lives today.
Maybe the retiring pastor’s message went beyond that. The community we need in our lives goes beyond what we do together in a church or school or the book club or at the ball park. What we’re missing may be what we felt when we were together as a people and a nation, meeting needs, embracing the future, expanding our vision, sharing both our successes and trials, and sharing our bounty.
We don’t seem to be doing much of that.
The outgoing preacher struck me as a man of books and history. He might have come across a quote from Gandhi: “Whenever you are in doubt…apply the first test. Recall the face of the poorest and weakest one whom you have seen, and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be any use to that person.”
The overwhelming humility the surgeon experienced, holding another’s heart in his hand, goes deeper than surgery.
About Jim Klobuchar:
In 45 years of daily journalism, Jim Klobuchar’s coverage ranged from presidential campaigns to a trash collector’s ball. He has written from the floor of a tent in the middle of Alaska, from helicopters, from the Alps and from the edge of a sand trap. He was invited to lunch by royalty and to a fist fight by the late Minnesota Viking football coach, Norm Van Brocklin. He wrote a popular column for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for 30 years and has authored 23 books. Retiring as a columnist in 1996, he contributes to Ecumen’s “Changing Aging” blog, MinnPost.com and the Christian Science Monitor. He also leads trips around the world and an annual bike trip across Northern Minnesota. He’s climbed the Matterhorn in the Alps 8 times and has ridden his bike around Lake Superior. He’s also the proud father of two daughters, including Minnesota's senior U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar.