One purpose of our gathering today is to remember what it means to have known Whitney Hendrickson and to commit ourselves to carrying on those human qualities which she embodied.
Here I offer special thanks to all for doing such a beautiful job bringing Whitney to us with your words and stories, music and images.
Those of you who have joined me at Shove for a memorial celebration know that often I offer a short list of qualities, which inspire our own living. But today I want to do something a bit different. I don’t want to offer a list. Instead I want to highlight the one thing that to me makes Whitney so special.
Whitney lived an integrated life. She lived so many dimensions of the human experience and yet felt so whole. To listen to her family and friends tell stories about her – one thing is clear – they adored her.
The word, “elegance” is used to describe her over and over. She loved the majesty and grandeur of the tradition of which she was a part. She took delight in the hymns of church-the ones we sing today. But alongside her elegance was an equal fondness for silliness. Along with the classical Whitney was the rock n’ roll superfreak. And she loved to laugh. It didn’t matter whether it was a hike that lost its way or travel gone absurd. She could take the most serious crisis and turn it into an occasion for frivolity. She never took herself or others too seriously. She laughed at herself and those she loved in a way only possible by someone who understands the universe is a good place.
She loved beauty. You can see her eye for it in her art. But she could also excel as a slob. Beauty and order, messiness and chaos were equally good ways to be a human being for Whitney.
In her family, Whitney is famous for asking to be pampered. Asking a sibling to bring her a drink, for a jacket keeping someone else warm or being catered to in some over the top way. A child comically ordering her parents around or pretending to be sassy. She was carried up to bed, by her father – as a 15 year old. But NO ONE thinks of Whitney as selfish. She never uttered an unkind word about a soul. She always had time for anyone in her life. Everyone could relate to Whitney, because she made it a point to care for all around her.
Whitney had a generosity of spirit that was unparalleled. Sometimes people excel at enjoying life and others focus on loving family and friends, but very few integrate both so seamlessly. One way to show her specialness is to turn the phrases around. Whitney enjoyed her family and friends and she loved life.
We have not gathered today only to remember Whitney, as right and important as that is. We are here to care for one another. Whitney’s loss hurts. When elegance and beauty and silliness and messiness and spirit and grace move on a huge hole remains.
Now is the time to come together as Whitney’s family and friends and community to care for one another. It is not only appropriate, but healthy to give voice to our pain. Our sadness, our loss, our exhaustion, and our anger are real. We don’t pretend that Whitney’s death is anything but a tragedy.
Confronting death always brings us face to face with loss of control. Too often we are lulled into the mistaken notion that we are in control. The same impression finds its way into our beliefs--that God controls every detail of our lives. But just because we are control freaks, doesn’t mean God is as well. Faith isn’t pretending everything is under control. Nor is faith ignoring our questions and doubts. We certainly need not shield God from the intensity of our suffering. For no one feels the pain as deeply as God.
God’s shoulders are broad enough
to bear our grief
God’s tears are real enough
to feel our pain
God’s hands are gentle enough
to offer us comfort
I spoke of Whitney’s life of integrity and wholeness. To me, it helps to pay attention to the wisdom that is spoken so clearly by her life. We celebrate Whitney in the context of a service that Whitney knew and loved. It is a liturgy that is hundreds of years old, which celebrates our relationship to the divine. All too often we are tempted to reduce the message and life of Jesus to a set of beliefs we hope will save us. Or we want to boil down the teachings to a moral code we use to guide us. But Whitney knew the secret --that finally it's not about what we believe or how we behave. Finally – it’s about who we love.
*Whitney knew who she was and she loved herself wholly.
*Whitney experienced the wonder of our universe and she loved the world completely.
*Whitney adored people and she loved each of you passionately.
Don’t get me wrong -
I’m not trying to erase the reality that Whitney’s death is very dark – that it feels senseless and numbing and sad beyond words.
But Whitney’s life and our lives are full of love.
We loved Whitney. Whitney loved us. We love each other.
For now – it is enough – it has to be.
And I pray that each of you will find your way, experience the goodness of life, and know the gentle touch of spirit even in your darkest moments.
To know Whitney is to recognize the vibrancy of life, which she carried and to warm ourselves in the glow of her luminosity.
Indeed to have known Whitney is to have known a true human being and to know a true human being is to see a refection of the divine. By teaching us to be human, Whitney taught us (perhaps unknowingly) how to be sacred. We celebrate that.
The Church Father St. John Chrysostom
said the same thing in a different way;
She whom we love
is no longer
where she was before.
She is now
wherever we are.
March 20, 2009, Shove Chapel