While many of us on the East Coast, in DC and New York City in particular, were happy to report how little we were actually affected by Hurricane Irene - our biggest problem being that we had stockpiled too much food - communities further north (and some further south) were not so lucky. These last few days, my thoughts have been with my beloved Vermont, which has been experiencing its worst flooding in 84 years, washing out roads and bridges and leaving communities isolated.
Navah worked on an organic farm there (which flooded) before law school, and we have visited many times over the last few years. We have very good friends there, and we will eventually make it our home. The area we have spent the most time in is in the northern part of the state - around Burlington - and for the most part, those areas are fine. Towns like Waterbury, which I drove through last year on my scenic tour from Burlington to Montpelier, have not fared so well.
So in honor of Vermont, I'm sharing a post from my old blog, written in 2009 after my second New Year spent in Burlington.
I grew up going to church every Sunday. The church was small - not the building itself - but the membership. During its peak (the one while I was alive at least), an average Sunday saw something around 75 members.
My whole family was very involved. My dad was the assistant pastor, which basically meant that he led some prayers and preached a few sermons every year. He helped with the youth and vacation bible school and led the adult sunday school class. Both of my parents were in the choir, and my mom and aunt often did special music on holidays. I went to sunday school and then to youth group (I think there were 3 of us), and when I was 12 or so I joined the choir (since there weren't enough young people for a youth choir). My sister ran around with the other young kids. A lot of women had apparently decided to have children at the same time because there were a bunch of kids her age.
We had potlucks about once a month. There were annual church retreats which involved camping, hiking, and singing songs around a fire. There were friendships and families. I knew everyone. I loved church and all of the people there. It was like seeing all of your best friends, including multiple sets of grandparents, every Sunday.
I felt very spiritual, very close to God.
We moved away - out of the city. We started off driving back in on Thursday nights for choir practice and then on Sundays for church, but it got to be too much. Slowly we quit going, and we started going to the big Methodist church with lots and lots of members and a youth program and a youth choir and several childrens choirs and more than one service every Sunday. There was lots to do for all of us. We made friends and found our niche in the giant membership. It wasn't the same.
Our old church began losing members. Some of it had begun before we left - people moving out of the city and into the suburbs or small towns, like us. Some people died. It wasn't the same when we went back to visit. It felt somehow like we didn't fit anymore. We were simply visitors.
I went to college and quit going to church. I was angry with the conservative sermons at the big church in our small town and couldn't seem to care enough to get up to go while I was at school. I missed it, but nothing else felt right. And then I came out and didn't know whether church had anything to offer me anymore.
Once I moved up to DC for graduate school, I started going to a Unitarian church and thought I'd found a home. I made friends and got to know some folks. But still, it didn't fit.
I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out what it was about that beautiful church I grew up in that felt so amazing - what was I actually looking for? Was it something that only existed for me because I was a child? Because I hadn't really seen the world?
This year on New Years Day I sat in a rocking chair in front of a fire in a beautiful house in Burlington. There were about 15 of us singing - Indigo Girls, Simon & Garfunkel, Dar Williams, children's songs, campfire songs, some religious, some not. The guitar was being passed around, and one girl was playing the fiddle. A man sang a gorgeous song that he wrote, and all of us melted from the beauty of it. I remembered sitting on those hard pews during a sing-a-long at my home church next to all of the people who meant so much to me - watching my mom and dad lead us in song - dad playing the guitar, mom singing. My favorite was Fill My Cup - "Oh fill my cup. Fill my cup, let it overflow. Oh fill my cup. Fill my cup, let it overflow. Oh fill my cup. Fill my cup, let it overflow. Let it overflow with love."
Sitting in the rocking chair in Burlington, tears streaming down my face, I was overflowing in this space that pulsed with warm energy, with the glow of a loving community.
Which, to me, feels like basking in the presence of God.
My thoughts are with you Vermont, and with all those on the East Coast who lost loved ones and who are putting their lives back together this week.