By Deirdre Good
Anyone who is invited to give talks or public addresses or lectures or workshops knows that one will encounter complete strangers as well as a few old friends. The nature of these chance meetings varies widely but, given that I speak about biblical matters, the possibility of deeply meaningful interactions is always present. On one occasion at a church in Brooklyn, someone introduced themselves to me as a friend of my parents from the time they were in Kenya. I was able to call my parents that day and pass on greetings. People have asked me after talks if I would be their spiritual director, which I decline, having had no training. People tell me stories about their lives evoked by my talk and our conversation. Sometimes, people ask for my email to begin an exchange of information about a topic on which they have heard me speak.
On one occasion, I went to another part of the country to give a day long workshop at a church on how the Bible came to be. It was well attended, having been given good publicity by the host rector, and people came from considerable distances including neighboring states. After the morning talk, the church parishioners served lunch and I sat down at a table of complete strangers having been waved over to it by two friendly faces. We began to talk. I asked where this couple had come from. They named a town in a neighboring state which I have never visited but which holds the grave of my mother-in-law, buried far away from any family or friends. It’s not a large town so I was quite surprised. And when I told them of her grave, they both immediately offered to visit it. An extraordinary connection came into being that day from a chance encounter. They subsequently sent descriptions and pictures of the grave and accounts of their visits to it on several occasions, and a beautiful gift handcrafted by the husband.
In today’s post we received a letter from the wife describing the death of her husband and her year-long grieving. I myself was deeply grieved at the news but my own sorrow at his death is tempered by the knowledge that, just as our connection in a place unknown to us, which each of us reached only by traveling a considerable distance, was made through the long-ago death of a person unknown to either of us, it will be sustained beyond death. And at the same time, that one fragile connection we made became so deep not so much because of what we said to each other, but because of who they were and what they did for my spouse and me. That connection becomes a symbol of what all other future encounters with strangers at other talks might become.
Dr. Deirdre Good is professor of New Testament at The General Theological Seminary, specializing in the Synoptic Gospels, Christian Origins, Noncanonical writings and biblical languages. An American citizen, she grew up in Kenya and keeps the blog On Not Being a Sausage.