Thursday, March 10, 2016

Remembering Death 9 Patricia Blaze Clark

Pat, as I think everyone who knew her called her, was a fast friend when I entered seminary in 1991. She was Episcopalian and I was Lutheran, but we were related by something thicker than blood or denomination.

I may have told this story before but I don't care.

My first concrete memory of her was at the retreat that served as a sort of new student orientation. It took place in a convent and we had, as I recall, several en masse meetings in a room with many chairs set up in a circle. At one our first meetings, I ended up next to Pat and I leaned over to her and said quietly, "What if we removed a chair or two in between meetings?"

Pat had these wonderfully large and expressive eyes and at any given moment, they had a spark, but at my suggestion, they went supernova with the notion. She answered, "Like musical chairs!" We went on to note that there were already some of us sitting on the floor, so we wondered how long it would take before anyone noticed, but waiting until someone did somehow fueled our glee at the plan.

We didn't do it, of course. We were both too much "the good kids" to carry through, but nothing creates an unbreakable bond quite like mischief, even if it was only imaginary.

Another early memory: We were sitting in the seminary library and just talking, getting to know each other. She was telling me how she had felt the call to the priesthood as a young Roman Catholic girl, but all her church had to offer her was "nun." So she became a nun for a time, without ever finding that a fit. She eventually left the order, married, and joined the Episcopal Church, where she found she could be a priest after all. After listening to her story, I replied, "That's funny because I've always wondered about becoming a monk, but all my church has to offer me is 'pastor.'" This was another bonding moment, one that took on more meaning as neither of us became ordained and I never became a monk (officially!).

As time went on, after graduation, we drifted some, but when we reconnected---a coffee date at Austin's Flightpath Coffee House---it was a reminder that some friendships may not have constant contact but that any contact is as if we'd never been separated. We got together a few times after than, sharing our circuitous lives of faith, creativity, doubt, frustrations.

Pat had a few problems with health, chief among them being lupus. It was lupus that kept her out of the priesthood, ultimately. She couldn't find a bishop to ordain someone with such fluctuating health.

So instead, she became a hymn-text writer, gaining some recognition in that particular field. She had hymn texts published in a few hymnal supplements and had a collection of her texts, The Still Small Voice, published by Selah. She also had a collection of new hymns with music by Kathleen Thomerson (perhaps best known for her hymn, "I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light"). That collection was called A Taste of Heaven's Joys and published by MorningStar. Search the web and you can find other texts used for choral arrangements, like this one by our seminary choirmaster, Russel Shulz.

Another health problem was a cancer that the lupus wouldn't let them cure. The attempt with chemotherapy nearly killed Pat, and so they decided not to pursue that route. They did learn that radiation at the right dosage seemed to make the cancer dormant for a while, so every once in a while, Pat had a radiation treatment. This worked for 2 or 3 years. She managed to stay upbeat, productive and lively through all of that.

Eventually, the radiation stopped putting the cancer to sleep, and when it woke up, it was aggressive and quick. I can't say enough bad things about cancer.

But as the stories above might suggest, what remembering Pat reminds me is that I tend to remember more about the life in a person than how they died. She was a few years older than me, but probably always had double my energy---despite the lupus!. She was an amazing and gifted friend. Lupus stole a priest from the church, cancer stole a hymn-text writer from the church, but I will always have my friend Pat, her life making me smile as I write this.

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