Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Kat

 Kat, Debbie, Anne, Nancy and me
If I have anything to boast about in my life it would be that I have great friends.  I have friends everywhere in a magnificent package that is marked on the outside of the box, “assorted.”  This is one of my favorite pictures of just one of that assortment, my friends from the Garland church.  The picture was taken about four years ago.  Each of us has now gone her own separate way.  Anne moved to Michigan.  Nancy and I have joined different churches.  Debbie worships in her own unique way in the hill country amidst the hardscrabble land. And now Kat is retiring. And that’s what I want to talk about today.  

I knew Kat back in the day when everyone called her Kathy.  I’m not sure exactly when she moved from Kathy to Kat but it has been one of the most wonderful gifts of my life to watch the process unfold.

Kat has been the church secretary at the First Presbyterian Church in Garland for 25 years.  I know her title is Administrative Assistant but that is seems like such a stilted term with so many syllables and I still prefer the original term.  Besides I have never thought the term to indicate some sort of Typing Pool Barbie.  Everyone knows the real power in any church resides in the church secretary.  Think Secretary of State here. And in this case her title is Friend.

There are songs about friends.  Bette Midler belts out that “You Got to Have Friends”.  Michael W. Smith says “Friends are friends forever if the Lord’s the Lord of them”

There was a TV show called Friends. There are Bromance movies and Chick Flicks.

There are quotes about Friends who come into your life for a season or for a reason.  When the season or reason eventually ends, each friend goes her separate way. 

And now Kat has decided to go her own way and we will all miss her.  The church will simply not be the same.  And it’s a good thing that Jesus always hangs around or else we’d all be in a real jam.

She insists she’s not going anywhere.  But you know how that is.  She and her husband will go visit their son on the Northwest coast and then their daughter in San Antonio and next thing you know she and Rick are on the road all the time and you don’t see them as often as you would like.

She’s retiring at the end of July and I know how those last few days will be so I wanted to get my own goodbye in early.  And I wanted to do it right.  Our other Sisterfriend works in downtown Dallas and knows all the good places. And it was a magnificent lunch.


 Kat, Debbie and me at lunch today.

It was such a bittersweet time for us all.  So few times a person gets to leave a job after 25 years and leave a sterling reputation behind.  And she has done it.  What a glorious thing to celebrate.

Over salmon and crab cakes, we talked a little about what sentimental thing she will take with her when she leaves.   She's taking the bible she’s used for all these years plus the new Glory to God hymnal someone had donated in her honor. But she will be leaving behind far more than she will take.  She's maxed out three Rolodexes, for one thing. 

She says the computer at her disk will have to remain “Kat’s computer” in all the office circuitry because it was installed so long ago that she doesn’t know how to change it.

I asked what was the most outrageous thing she’s witnessed in 25 years.  After all, she sits right outside the pastor’s office.  She knows who walks in or leaves in tears.  She sees family drama over funerals and weddings.  I know she has stories.  She’s seen so much.

Yet, when I asked for stories she just sat there with a serene look and said simply, “That’s in my vault.”  I know from working at a bank that some occupations have a high standard for confidentiality. And I’m pretty sure a church secretary operates at a higher standard than a bank clerk.  But surely some of the stories would be classic…too good to pass over; maybe she could tell some story where all the characters are dead now.  I tried again.  “Oh, yeah, I’ve seen some stuff you wouldn’t believe.”  The chuckle in her voice mixed seriousness with glee.  But I got nothing.   “It’s in my vault.  And it will stay there.”

We talked a bit about how her ministry has grown and changed over the years.  She’s outlasted two pastors and two interim pastors. When she started it was just a job.  She used an electric typewriter and she said they still have it in the office.  But back then it was just a job.  Today, she hands out around 25 sack lunches every day and thinks of it as a ministry.  She knows the homeless people of the town and she knows them by name and personality.  And she calls some of the special guys, “My boys.”  And when I asked what was her greatest joy after all these years I wasn’t surprised at her answer:  “I have seen Leo smile.”

Everybody in Garland knows Leo. He’s a bit older than I am and a few of the members of our church went to high school with him.  He walks all over town wearing a knit cap no matter the weather, one of the classic signs of paranoid schizophrenia.  He keeps to a radius of a few miles and, after all these years,  everyone recognizes him when they see him.  He used to scare people because of his looks but he’s actually more afraid of other people than they are of him.  And now he’s become somewhat of an institution in Garland.  Sometimes he digs through the trash at the church or sleeps in the bushes in the back. Whenever there is any question of what to do with left-over communion bread people will say to leave it by the dumpster for Leo.

He has always been wary of people and Kat has been trying to earn his trust for years now.  A few months ago he started coming to the free breakfast the church offers on Saturday.  Then he started coming for the free sack lunch.  He’s so shy that Kat tries to have a lunch ready for him so he doesn’t have to wait.

And she said he smiled at her last week.

I thought “Yeah, you can retire happy.  You got to see Leo smile. There's probably nobody else in this town who has seen that.”

After lunch I left Kat at the church office and drove out the church parking lot.  I looked in the rear view mirror to check traffic and saw Leo.  He was laying down in the shade of a tree by the kitchen door.  He was flat on his back with his arms crossed over his stomach and one leg crossed over his other knee.  I looked at his knit cap and gray beard.  He looked relaxed and content.

Nothing left undone.  She got to see Leo smile.

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