(from the memorial service of Suzanne Harvey Lynch, June 30th, 2013 (what would have been her 79th birthday) at the Comedy Works, Greenwood Village, co)
A couple months ago, I sat at the deathbed – or in this case, the death recliner of a woman dying of emphysema and needing a priest. I’m unclear if the fact that the priest was me was poetic or just ironic, since 20 years earlier it was this same woman, Suzanne Lynch who had saved my ass. I was a fucked up kid trying to get sober and she was a lawyer who lived in the nice part of town. I had nowhere else to go and could barely pay for my own groceries when Suzanne offered that I could live for awhile in her spare bedroom while I got my act together.
She seemed so unlike me on the outside. Since she owned things like, dishes and furniture. At the time, I had nothing going for me. Well, I had killer abs, but that really was about it. I was an angry, hostile, but ultimately just kind of injured young woman. But for some reason, Suzanne Lynch saw more in me – something no one else (most especially myself) could see. She dared to think I was something more than the mess I was in the moment. She believed that I was not irredeemable – that I was more than the sum total of my mistakes. And in the end, that whole Suzanne taking in Nadia thing was like, I don’t know… emotional venture capitalism on her part.
And I hope the investment paid off. Eventually I married a nice Texan and had a couple kids and went to college and then seminary and wrote a couple books and became, of all things, a Lutheran pastor.
I and everyone else seemed to find each step of my life more unlikely than the next. But not Suzanne. I called her once to tell her I was in college and strangely getting all As and all she said was “of course you are, don’t be ridiculous”. And when I was ordained she said she was not in the least bit surprised.
So, Suzanne had fed me and given me a place to be broken and 2 decades later, I would sit by her recliner in the living room of a senior high rise and feed her communion and give her a space to confess her own brokenness.
“Suzanne” I would say after a few minutes of small talk, “would you like to tell me the things that weigh on your conscience.”
“Well” She said in typical Suzanne fashion, “let’s define conscience first”
“Bullshit” I replied, “you’re avoiding the question”
She gave a raised eyebrow, but didn’t have the lawyer’s fight in her anymore so resigned to the inevitable and said, with a brevity I’d not experienced in Suzanne before, the things she had done which troubled her. Some were funny, others sad and one was particularly painful. But I could not look away from this amazing, brilliant, frustrating, woman. I heard her secrets while holding her bruised, papery hand. And then asked her if she believed that the word of forgiveness that I was about to proclaim to her was from God.She said she did.
And then I just told to her that she is forgiven. Now, just to be clear, Not in that weird way where God is some angry bastard up in the sky with a killer surveillance system and a dry erase board listing the bad things we have done and then when we confess God says “oh OK…” and uses his sleeve to wipe them clean. No. I assured her – as she had assured me, that she is not the sum total of her mistakes. And that our higher power whatever you want to call it – that powerful force of love in this universe has the ability to redeem all of our crap. That the love of God is always more powerful than our ability to screw things up. That’s redemption, and redemption was something Suzanne believed in. celebrated. Fought for.
As we sat there at her recliner, Suzanne’s shaking hand then wiped away her tears and adjusted her oxygen tube.
“I feel unbelievably lighter” she said in a whisper. She was so beautiful in that moment. So free. And unlike two decades earlier, she had my complete attention.
In that moment with her I flashed back to when we had sat together in the early 90s. I had been wearing a sleeveless Public Enemy t-shirt and sat on her Ethan Allen sofa and paying as little attention as possible and still have it look like I was listening to the 58 year old lawyer in the Ann Taylor suit whose guest bedroom was the only place I had to lay my head.
But now as I wore a black clergy shirt and gave the woman in the recliner my full attention and told her that she is loved and she is free, and I too felt comforted by the knowledge that no matter how much of a distracted ingrate I had been when she took me in, that a Higher Power could somehow redeem me and redeem her and redeem our stories and all our broken mess of a beautiful life. And I could sit at her side and tell her this as she looked beautiful and free and took some of her final, struggling breaths.
A few years ago I took Suzanne to lunch and thanked her for taking me in and told her that I wish I could re-pay her somehow. To which she said “Well, Just live your life, kiddo. That’s plenty”
This is the life we get here on earth. We get to give away what we receive. We get to believe in each other. We get to forgive and be forgiven. We get to love imperfectly. And we never know what effect it will have for years to come. And all of it… all of it is completely worth it.
I loved Suzanne. I’m so grateful to have known her. And I am grateful to have been seen by her.
She was quite the woman, Suzanne Lynch. And I’m fairly certain the old gal’s in heaven right now taking in misfits and correcting God’s grammar. Amen.
Here is a link to Suzanne’s Obit. http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/denverpost/obituary.aspx?pid=164071064