Dorothy Bergquist, whom I knew for many years as a fellow parishioner at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, died peacefully on October 1, 2012. Her funeral was two days ago, on the 13th, and as I mourned her death and felt the happiness of her life, especially as eulogized by Father Ted Berktold.
I have held onto a story about an experience I had with Dorothy many years ago and the story kept coming back to me during the funeral. I've always known that what happened that day was very simple, but it has had a lasting, I'd say profound, impact on me, but I've kept it private.
I'll tell it now.
It happened sometime around 1985 or '86, maybe even '87. I was in my early thirties. The fact is that the demise of my first marriage in 1981-82 continued to deeply trouble me. Despite having good friends, both men and women, and despite having been in a few serious relationships with women, I continued to feel nagging despair, loneliness, and, most of all, confusion.
The divorce I went through in 1981-82 significantly fragmented my spiritual life and my Christian faith. I held onto enough shards of faith that I never stopped, even if it was minimal, practicing Christianity and, sometimes, attending St. Mary's Episcopal church, but I couldn't find peace. I couldn't find relief from the pain of the divorce nor from the pain of broken relationships with a few women after the divorce.
I looked to the church for comfort. I attended services sporadically. I began attending the Eucharist at the Campus Ministry House. Sometimes I went to the meeting of the St. Luke's healing prayer group. I also, on occasion, went to Wednesday morning Eucharist.
Dorothy assisted with the Wednesday morning Eucharist, and, if I remember correctly, when Father Berktold couldn't be there, she led us in Morning Prayer.
I don't know how often I attended these services, but here's what I do remember.
Right away Dorothy reminded me of someone from my years growing up and I cannot remember for the life of me who it was. All I know is that just her appearance, the way she conducted herself at Wednesday Eucharist, the way she read scripture or read prayers was comforting to me.
I trusted her.
One Wednesday morning, I came to the Eucharist in a particularly pronounced state of spiritual and emotional agitation. I tried not to communicate it, tried to keep it to myself, but I was on the verge of tears and was very confused and I was lonely in my agitation.
As the service progressed, I pulled deeper inside myself while, at the same time, experienced comfort in the liturgy, in the prayers and readings that were so familiar to me.
When it came time for the passing of the peace, I rose from my pew and I was hungry for peace. I went from person to person, shaking hands, exchanging the words, "Peace be with you" or "Peace of the Lord".
I don't know what Dorothy saw in my face or in posture, but she wordlessly refused the shaking of my hand and embraced me, put her arms around me, and held me tight for several seconds.
My back and shoulders trembled and I fought back tears.
Dorothy didn't know my name, she just stepped back, my elbows in her hands, and quietly said, "The peace of the Lord be with you."
All I could do was nod.
That embrace did more than make me feel better. It helped me feel both physically and spiritually that I belonged in the fellowship of this church and the union of the mystical Body of Christ.
That embrace is still with me. I still feel it in my back and shoulders and elbows and in my hands.
My memory has forgotten details of that time in my life, but my body remembers.
It remembers Dorothy's care.
My body remembers her tenderness.
It remembers, and I often return to, that everliving moment of grace.