At a graduation celebration for nine women in Pittsburgh who have just completed the InterPlay Life Practice Program, twenty-five of their friends and family gathered to cheer them on. Many of the guests had never seen InterPlay, so members of our Wing & A Prayer troupe provided a short demonstration.
My husband Rich asked the audience to give him a word to use as the theme for his story. The setting was a chapel in a Christian church, so that may have influence the word choice, but someone called out, “redemption.”
Rich began his story, allowing as how, as a Jewish man, he wasn’t sure what his faith tradition has to say about redemption. He did say that many of his brethren were like him, downloading coupons from the internet, printing them off, and then forgetting them at home when they needed to redeem them at the store.
His story was playful and entertaining, but it left the impression that he didn’t know anything about redemption. As the mistress of ceremony, I had not planned on telling a story of my own, but I was compelled to share a memory that came to me strongly in that moment. I did not understand how the story was related to redemption, but I decided that it must be, so I shared it.
It’s the summer of 1998 in Texas, and as usual, it’s hotter than hell. Rich and a buddy have decided to begin raising money and training to ride in the first Texas AIDS Bike Ride – a 7 day, 587 miles tour through Texas. I tried to be supportive, bringing snacks and water to their training rest stops, but the whole idea seemed pretty nutty to me. The first night of the ride, their campsite, somewhere outside Houston flooded, and they had to be evacuated from their tents to a school gymnasium.
Standing at the finish line in Dallas, looking out to the bridge on the edge of the skyline I saw nearly a thousand bicyclists riding into town like they were following Lance Armstrong in the tour de france. I spotted Rich in the crowd, wearing a big smile and our son Ken’s picture on his back. As riders lifted their bikes over their heads in triumph, Rich and I hugged, danced, and poured water on one another. “Wherever Ken is now, he’s so proud of you,” I told him.
After I tell an improvisational story I’m never sure whether the story made any sense to the audience. I’d written about this scene in my upcoming book, Dancing on Behalf of Life and Death, but I wasn’t sure why it had came to me in this situation. Later, a Jewish graduate shared a section of an article by a rabbi on her faith tradition’s view of redemption, which helped me connect the dots –
“Here the notion of celebration is central, of public proclamation and acclamation, of the realization that things continually move ahead towards a larger aim. This movement may be toward some sense of redemption – the notion of improvement of ourselves and our species – or it may be an appreciation of our place in this creation – not here as a small, created thing, but as one whose task it is to speak out about this process, to share the sense of the sacred in the world with the rest of the world.”