Any religion that does NOT provide a supportive community for those who belong to it or for those seeking it, should sell their property, liquidate their assets and give all the proceeds to those in need. Sadly, more often than we think, somebody seeking to connect with a group of people or maybe just in need of a friendly ear will wander into a faith community only to have their desire for human contact short-circuited. It reminds me of an old story about a little girl who went to Sunday school one morning. When her Mom picked her up after her class, she asked her daughter how she liked it. The little girl said, “It was awful!”
“Why?” the Mom asked, concerned that something really bad had happened.
The little girl answered, “They put me in a room full of people all by myself!”
What happened to that little girl was not so bad as it was sad. Wanting to be connected, she instead felt disconnected.
I had such an experience myself. At a very difficult time in my life, I went to a church looking for an opportunity to get over myself by conversing with somebody…anybody. When I arrived, a program was handed to me, but nobody said “hello.” When it was time to greet one another, I was ignored. Later in the service, I could not get the guy collecting the money to acknowledge my presence even when I flashed a twenty-dollar bill in his face. Nobody said “goodbye” as I escaped the building. Like that little girl’s Sunday school disaster, I felt like I was “in a room full of people all by myself.” I left that church feeling worse than when I arrived!
Having taken yet another swing at organized religion, however, I now have to cut it some slack. I confess that after nearly 30 years of making my living by collecting a percentage of the proceeds from church offering plates, I have more frequently witnessed people connecting rather than disconnecting. But supportive community is much more than simply making superficial contact. Real community is about the connecting of human hearts.
I was not at my new position on Cape Cod long before I met Ty. You could not miss him. He and his buddy Alex were like cyclones whirling around; a couple of bundles of non-stop energy. It was not long, however, before I frequently found Ty under foot…sometimes annoyingly. I did not really understand why I was tripping over him until my first Father’s Day with my flock.
For a number of years, I have written a letter to my Dad on Father’s Day and shared it as my Sunday message. Even though my Dad died in 1973, I still have a “hole in my heart” that my Dad once filled. It is not unusual, therefore, for my Father’s Day letter to be a bit emotional for me and to cause a few tears to well up in the eyes of those sitting in the seats.
After ending my first Father’s Day service on Cape Cod, I felt somebody tug at my shirt. It was Ty. Before I could say a word, he said to me sadly, “I don’t have a Dad.” He didn’t. His Mom was and is an incredible single Mom who I admire greatly, but there was no Dad anywhere to be found in Ty’s life. As I looked at Ty, who was still hanging onto my shirtsleeve, I said to him, “You DO have a Dad. I’ll be your Dad and there’s a bunch of other guys here that will be your father, too.”
“Thanks, P.J.,” Ty said and scampered off to find Alex in order to create yet another perfect storm.
That was over six years ago and I am overjoyed to inform you that Ty has never lacked for a Dad. In fact, I think he might, on more than one occasion, felt as if he had a few too many. There is one guy in particular who really stepped up to the plate. Gary has known Ty forever. Gary’s family has become Ty’s second home. Gary rarely misses being present at any significant event in Ty’s life. I am deeply moved watching the two of them together. It brings back memories of my Dad and me.
Ty grew up so fast that my mortality has come into view. He graduated from high school last spring. At his graduation, Ty was asked to give the commencement address as the representative of his class. There was more than one of his adopted Dads at the ceremony. We were all so proud of him.
After graduation, Ty began to prepare for college. He had been accepted at a great college in Western Pennsylvania. Finances are always an issue for Ty’s family, but his adopted Dads have often stepped up to the plate when a need arose. A few months ago, one of the Dads gave me a check for $500 and asked that I give it to Ty anonymously so he could buy stuff that he needed for school.
Even though Ty worked at B.J.’s for several years to save money to go to college, he still made connecting with his Dads on Sunday morning a priority. He also dragged his little brother Jake along with him. Little Jake has some serious health issues, but he is also a whirlwind of energy just like his big brother and there is another similarity between the two. Jake is already finding a few “adopted” Dads chasing him around on Sunday morning. The story of Ty (and Jake) has been incredible to watch unfold, and something happened last week that put an exclamation point on it.
Ty left for college last week. As happy as everybody is for him, it was a mite sad to see him go. I personally felt like I was sending my own kid off to school. Ty and his Mom headed west on Route 6 to exit Cape Cod via the Sagamore Bridge. Unbeknownst to them, Dad Gary and his family had arisen early to get to the Sagamore before them. They assumed a position by the side of the outbound lane of the bridge, As they neared the bridge, Ty was completely surprised (shocked!) to see them standing by the side of the road holding a huge, handmade banner that read, “We love you Ty!”
There really are no words that can truly describe the amazing love on display by the side of the outbound lane of the Sagamore Bridge that morning. Wordlessly, it is the heartbeat of community and when it speaks, it speaks for itself.
John E. Holt
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
August 27, 2014