Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Remembering Michael Dwinell

Using the bathroom at Michael's downstairs den of an office, the first place I actually remember meeting him (the office, that is--not the bathroom), was a trip. I learned fast that I had to really need to pee badly in order to make that short but immense journey through the bowels of his house to a bathroom that probably hadn't been cleaned in years. One of the benefits of making the trip, besides the obvious, was being reassured that I was not, in fact, the worst housekeeper in the world. Along with the usual old basement-y smells and look, and the unkempt toilet, there were dozens and dozens of empty toilet paper tubes collecting everywhere. Peeling paint and a tiny just above ground window that looked through garden greenery to the quaint alley were also features.

But really, that's just a small physical token of the adventure that a visit with Michael could be. Especially for me, who was in most ways very much a "good, nice girl"--polite, ready to tell my truth to the extent that I was aware of it, yet not given to doing so with much color, guts, or chutzpah, and certainly not with four-letter words. Michael filled in for whatever I lacked in that way! 

His den was papered and smothered in cards, photos, quotes from wise people of various times and places, artwork, and a fish tank in which it's amazing any fish survived, since it was probably cleaned about as often as the toilet. But I think I remember live fish swimming lazily in there! (Friends who visited Michael back at the "old place" can corroborate or set me straight on that point.)

Michael was truly one of a kind--a large presence in all respects. You kind of had to get used to him (or at least I did) before his immense gifts could be received in their fullness. Get used to the bracelets that slid  and clattered up and down his forearm; his way of seeming to be falling asleep on me, which of course provoked all my old insecurities ("I really am the most boring person who ever lived!"); the scratching, picking, and grooming of scalp and nails (it must have helped him focus or something); the straight-shooting talk that could leave me gasping for air or, best of all, reduced to gut-splitting laughter and tears. 

One of my favorite such comments came after David and I had left St. Bart's in Yarmouth, a daring/crazy, momentous, and wrenching decision after fourteen years of loving and being part of that community. Michael knew that our choice to leave a lively, healthy congregation without a plan in mind or a new place to go, and especially without any indication of the usual clergy journey onward and upward through parishes of increasing size, would not exactly win us fans among our ecclesiastical and clerical colleagues. When we visited Michael about a month after we had left St. Bart's, he said, "And what kind of support and reaching out have you been getting from your brother and sister clergy? I bet your phone has just been ringing off the hook!" And after we caught our breath and mopped our eyes from hysteria, the sad truth that no one had called us was a little easier to acknowledge and to bear.

Michael both served the church and skewered it regularly with his insights and humor. He was my compatriot in that we both eventually left the Episcopal priesthood, renounced our ordination vows, and as he had done so a few years before I chose to, he could assure me that surprisingly wide vistas would open up after doing so. And in that he was right.

I haven't got a clue what, if anything, awaits us after death. But I wish Michael more wide open vistas, radiant with love and joy and some really good jokes, and a wide, wide open embrace to take him in. Those already on the other side had better be ready for some rollicking surprises of their own as he joins their ranks.

Blessings, Michael. 


Jane said...

Wow, I just learned of his death. He and I emailed a few times, I never met him persoanlly. He had great compassion and wisdom. Thanks for the informative and lovely post.

Margaret Bullitt-Jonas said...

Dear Sukie -- I learned just two days ago from Curtis Almquist of Michael Dwinell's death. Thank you so much for this lovely essay. I am sorry that I missed the memorial service. What a memorable, provocative presence he was. Blessings to you and David!