Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Post-Eliot Reflections

Eliot Institute is a week-long summer camp at Seabeck, WA, which attracts a couple hundred campers for a week in July and a week in August. There is also a June session at Naramata, BC, since it is an international entity. I've been to both July and August but not yet to Naramata.

This past week at July Eliot featured the Rev. Stefan Jonasson from Winnipeg talking about "Letters of the Spirit", the many ways reverence is expressed in sacred texts of many kinds. The drill is that the speaker, in this case Stefan, speaks every morning (about an hour) Sunday through Friday, and after his talk, we meet in small groups to discuss questions he's posed. It's a very good format and I always enjoy it.

This July I was chaplain for the camp, a pretty easy duty though we did have a short memorial service for a longtime camper who died this past spring. I also had opportunities to talk with other campers about spiritual or ministry issues. I enjoy being chaplain, but this time I felt quite low-key in my approach to the role. I just didn't have the energy to put myself out there much.

I think it was possibly that I attended my 50th high school reunion on Friday and Saturday and had to hurry up to Seabeck on Sunday, a day late, and it took some of the excitement out of seeing old friends and making new ones at Eliot. I was also pretty tired from the long drive, which started at 6 a.m. Sunday morning and ended at about 2 p.m. that afternoon. It's a pretty long haul from Pendleton to Seabeck!

But the reunion was worth every long moment of driving. We started gathering on Friday afternoon at the parking lot of Athena's elementary school; a couple of our group had set up their RVs side by side and erected a canopy to keep out the hot sun. Beer in the coolers, snacks on the table, people we barely recognized alongside us.

What a shock to see formerly carrot-topped Danny Moore, one of my academic rivals in the race for top honors in our graduating class of 20, snowy-topped but still lanky and funny and full of stories about his life since we'd seen him last. Danny, now Daniel, is the composer of a couple of pretty wellknown songs ---Shambala and My Maria---and many others I can't think of immediately. Needless to say, we were impressed! And really thankful that he'd made the effort to come to the reunion. It was his first time back in Athena since graduation and he filled in the details. Turns out he never has done anything but music----dropped out of college as a sophomore and went to LA to sing and compose. And he's never had a day job.

Anyhow, people I once was a bit intimidated by (boys, especially) turned out to be human beings too, funny and still cute and willing to talk to formerly-dweebish me. I was never one of the popular girls---too much the goody-two-shoes---but all that was old news during the reunion and we had a great time reminiscing.

Athena is a small community halfway between Pendleton, Oregon, and Walla Walla, Washington. It is primarily wheat and peas country and harvests of both were going on as we met. The weather is always very hot in the summer (about 95 on this weekend). This particular weekend was also Caledonian Days, their annual Highland Games festival, because of Athena's Scottish roots. The high school was McEwen High, though now it has consolidated with another small high school nearby (Weston) and is, strangely, the "Tiger-Scots", conflating two rather diverse mascots. Oh well.

We were sobered to realize that of our 20 class members, 10 of them are now dead. Some died in accidents but a significant number died of cancer. Since Athena is south-east of Hanford, the nuclear armaments plant now mostly demobbed, there is concern that these deaths were due to the "downwind" effect. Athena was officially declared Not a Downwind Site, but you have to wonder. Of course, this is also a town which is surrounded by fields which get significant amounts of pesticides, via crop-dusters. And it may also be significant that most of those who died of cancer still lived in the area. There are cancer survivors as well in our class.

During my time away, I got a panicky email from the catsitter----Max had escaped. He had apparently torn open a screen on a window and hightailed it into the briar patch. He came back eventually but once inside, he did a pretty good job of soaking the comforter on the guest bed. So I spent a couple of days, once back, cleaning that up thoroughly. Fortunately, it only got the comforter, which can easily be washed and is synthetic, so odors don't tend to linger.

Okay, you're caught up now. Hope you've all been okay. I'm fighting off a cold, which descended on Sunday and has diminished a bit but is keeping me from feeling very energetic. Friday I leave again to complete my half of a pulpit exchange that started last October, when my colleague Annie Holmes spoke at UUCWI. I'm going to Roseburg OR to preach in her church this weekend, taking it easy both ways (it's about 400 miles one way), visiting friends to and from. I'll be back Monday. Pray for me----I'm tired of traveling!

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