Wordsanctuary Revisited

Musings of a writer-teacher-counselor.

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Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

I am inquisitive and have worked in writing, editing, and teaching. I am a citizen of the USA and also concerned about the world. This is an addendum to my original blog, Wordsanctuary. That's at www.wordsanctuary.blogspot.com Please check out my column at www.insidehighered.com, "A Kinder Campus." Click on Career Advice to find it. Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Community Minister Remembered


Conceive the Soul as a fountain,
And these created things as rivers:
While the Fountain flows, the rivers run from it.

Put grief out of your mind,
And drink of this River-water.
Do not think of the Water failing—

For this Water is without end.


Her favorite flower was the purple iris, her eyes as blue as cloudless sky. Her hair was gold as sunbeams, her voice soothing as a breeze. Her heart embraced family and friends; her spirit soared across mountains and oceans. Brigitte Brunhart, who died on September 28, 2006, was a community minister and a cherished friend.

I met Brigitte at a lay ministers’ training program she helped design and implement at First Unitarian Church in Shaker Heights, Ohio, in the 1990s. I was a trainee in the program and a new UU. Though we both eventually shifted our memberships elsewhere—Brigitte selected East Shore Unitarian Universalist Church in Kirtland, Ohio, and I joined Church of the Larger Fellowship and other spiritual organizations—our friendship remained intact.

From the outset, I was struck by Brigitte’s passion for life and desire to serve others. The program she spearheaded at First Church still influences me—whenever I need to reach out to someone struggling, particularly someone I don’t know well. Beyond being adept in the art of service, Brigitte herself possessed what can be best described as a healing presence—with all the mystery and kindness that phrase suggests. She could listen intently; she could speak up courageously.

Brigitte and her husband John McBratney adopted two children, Kumar and Indra, from Nepal, demonstrating that love indeed encircles the globe to those receptive to it. My son and I admire the vision to create family in this way. We remember our too-infrequent play dates and one day, in particular, when Brigitte and Kumar arrived at our home with armloads of gently worn T-shirts. My son, an only child, was in a phase of wearing only cotton shirts with animal prints on them—and this replenished our supply.

Combining motherhood with service to others beyond our immediate circle was a quest Brigitte understood. We spoke freely about striving to attain that delicate balance. One night, she suggested that we steal away to hear the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom Music Center, some distance from our homes. She was willing to drive—if I would pack a picnic basket. It was one of the few performances I heard in my stressful years as mom of a preschooler with asthma and as a teacher.

My parents were immigrants from postwar Europe. Brigitte was originally from Lichtenstein. She was fluent in German and French, and I have smatterings of both. Thus, we could talk a bit in other languages; she had the grace to overlook my faulty grammar. Friendship, after all, is not so much about the words—but rather, the delicate threads of thought and emotion linking mind and heart. Her handwriting and needlepoint, precise and graceful, showed her ability to create beauty in even the smallest space.

Serious illness in Brigitte’s final years and an auto accident in my life rerouted much of our own energy into quests for personal healing. She understood firsthand the frustration of being restricted by health concerns. She traveled to Colorado and back to Ohio several times, seeking traditional and complementary treatment. We re-connected when we could, and I valued each conversation. Her depth of understanding was forged decades before, when she had first faced and overcome a life-threatening illness. At that time, as a student of comparative literature, she shifted her studies to massage and the related healing arts to help others.

On my birthday a few years ago, I encountered Brigitte in a parking lot by chance. I burst into tears, overwhelmed by my own lengthy rehabilitation and a legal case. She was not only a comfort; her conviction helped me persevere.

All healing paths are finite. Brigitte had done hospice work and was not afraid to discuss death and the process of letting go. I once revealed to her anguish as a relative faced an operation of unknown outcome. There were few people that I felt could understand. She reassured me that most of the people she had supported in their final weeks of life made peace with who they were, with what they had done and left undone. I have relied on this insight many times, and it has eased the pain of losing dear relatives and friends.

The last time I saw Brigitte, she spoke with her eyes. She winked. She smiled. I gave her flowers to symbolize her strength and beauty and a silky toy rabbit, her gentleness--suspecting it was our last visit, but hoping to be wrong. The weekend of her memorial service, my mother was very ill; I knew I’d have to delay saying goodbye to Brigitte.

I have decided to defer saying goodbye indefinitely. My memory of her as a minister of compassion will always fill my heart.

Photo Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


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