A Message from APC President… Feb 2021
APC President Rev. Jon Overvold MDiv BCC
When I was still in middle school and high school, my grandfather came to live with us. He left behind his home in Racine, Wisconsin, an old industrial Midwest town on Lake Michigan, to live with my family out West in Oregon. After my gramma died, my Grandpa tried living alone on his own for a couple of years but, after suffering a light stroke at age 80 and finding it just too much to be alone – he simplified his life to two suitcases and went to live with his children. The first year he lived with his son in Northern Minnesota. The second year he went to Ohio to live with his daughter. The third year he rode cross country in a car with his two suitcases to live with his other daughter, my mother, and family out West. Each year he packed his bags and went to live with one of his children, rotating between the three for the last 10 years of his life. Any other man may have resented having to uproot every year but my grandpa in his later years had become easy going and flexible. Today we would call him resilient because of the way he adapted to change and found himself again in new surroundings. From his grandchildren’s perspective – if he had not come to live with us in the scheduled rotation – we would have felt cheated and robbed. People got close to my grandfather because he gave his attention to the one he was with in the moment – listening generously and enjoying a good story.
2020 was one of the hardest years for our nation and for the world. We know it in our bones and bodies, all that we have seen and felt. In our work, we had to step up to the challenge as essential workers in a pandemic. At home, we had our families to care for and protect from the virus. Some of us became sick and sadly, some of our community have died. Steven Foster, the father of American Music, wrote a song in 1854 in Pittsburgh during a time of high unemployment and a cholera outbreak that goes, “So many a day you have lingered around my cabin door. Oh, hard times, come again no more.” We could sing our own 2020 version of this song, hard times come again no more . . .
Many times this past year, the memory of my grandfather has come to visit me. Maybe you have had the same experience of recalling your elders or guides whose memory helps point the way forward when life is really hard. These are examples of lives of hope that knew hard times with fear and danger present but who continued on in hope to see another brighter time and day. Before I knew my grandfather, he had left his home at age 17 to immigrate to America. When my mother was born, the Spanish flu was raging across the world. In the 20’s, my grandfather built many homes as a young carpenter but sadly they were all lost in the depression of the 30’s. In the slow recovery he managed to build a modest life and went on to face other challenges including his wife’s cancer diagnosis. Even in retirement, while on a family trip he was struck by a car and badly injured requiring months of surgery and rehabilitation. All of this happened before I knew him. He had faced his share of “hard times” but what I remember was a man with a positive, hopeful outlook who loved to be engaged and connected to familiar friends and to strangers who just might become a new friend.
Who are your elders that show you a way forward? Who are the steadfast encouragers that you rely on in hard times? Who models flexibility and resilience in your life? Can you feel a connection to your ancestors that root and cheer for you in times just like these? I call on many who I consider my elders and ancestors. For example, Maya Angelou who said “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated.” Or the mystic poet, John O’Donohue who prayed “May I have the courage today to live the life that I would love, to postpone my dream no longer, but to do at last that which I came here for and waste my heart on fear no more.” Our elders inspire and encourage us in many ways – some just by the way they lived their life – like my grandfather who travelled this world lightly but learned to cherish the connections with others wherever they could be made. As 2021 opens before us with new hopes and possibilities for renewal, may the prayers of our ancestors ease our fears and inspire us to live with passion and purpose in the gift of each new day.
Jon A. Overvold, MDiv, BCC
Rev. Jon Overvold MDiv BCC is the Manager of Pastoral Care and Education at New York Presbyterian – Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City.. He serves as President of the APC Board and may be contacted at email@example.com.