Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The RequiemEucharist for Patrica Hansen

Patricia Hansen

(February 21, 1931-January 11, 2013)

Gethsemane Cathedral
Fargo, North Dakota

January 16, 2013

+ Last Saturday, after hearing of Pat’s death, I posted a prayer request, asking for prayers for the repose of her soul. I mentioned in that posting, very briefly, that I was saddened by her passing and then mentioned that Pat, for me anyway, was the embodiment of integrity and class. We might call that an understatement.

I got to know Pat very well over the 15 years or so we knew each other. And knowing her as well as I did, I realize now that I need to be very careful in saying such things. I need to be careful using words like “integrity” and “class.” Pat would take issue with me. I can almost hear her voice right now. She—lover of words that she was—would take issue with me over the fact that if I was going to use words like “integrity” and “class,” I had better expand on them. And I had better back up why I am using those particular words.

Integrity, for me, is the key word. Integrity. Integrity means more than just being brave and strong. Integrity means living one’s life with a certain honesty and character.

Pat, as some of us this afternoon know, did not always have an easy life. There were hard times in her past. There were difficulties. She knew pain. She knew hardship. The least of which was the various physical set-backs she suffered through in the last dozen or so years of her life.

But, for Pat, integrity meant living with grace and class even in the face of those hardships. Living with grace and class in the face of hardship is integrity. Integrity means holding one’s head up, even despite what life throws at one. And for those of who knew Pat, we saw that integrity. It was there in every aspect of her life. It was there in the way she held her head. It was there in her eyes. It was there in that perfect articulation of words. It was there in her gracefulness. And it was there even in her illnesses and her pains.

For me, what I saw in her integrity and her grace and her class, was almost—dare I say—almost a wonderful defiance. Her integrity was a defiance of those sometimes awful things that life sometimes throws at us. And I loved her for that spark of defiance.

I of course knew Pat in a priest and parishioner relationship when I served here at Gethsemane Cathedral, but our relationship was also more than that Patricia and I shared three passions. We loved poetry. We loved good films (especially classic films) And we loved the Episcopal Church.

More often than often not, I would get a very direct question from her regarding the first two of these passion. She would often ask me, “What is your favorite book?” or poet, or poem. And “what is your favorite film?”

For some people, those are easy questions to answer For some people, they can answer those questions like nothing. For me they are not. I can’t name my favorite book or poem or poet, because it changes all the time. I can’t name my favorite film, because it’s an ever-changing cycle for me. And I think she loved the fact that my favorites were ever-changing.

Actually, it was through poetry that we knew each other first. Even before I met her, she knew of my work as poet. She had read at least one of my early books of poems and knew my name the first time she met me.

The last time I saw Pat also involved poetry. Last summer, I was at Bethany Homes here in Fargo, giving a talk on my book, Fargo, 1957, which chronicled the horrific June 20, 1957 tornado that struck Fargo. That evening Pat came to the discussion and told stories about that tornado and Fargo in the 1950s that were so poignant and so much interesting than any of mine.

Our love of films developed a little later. And it was, always, the one thing we always had to discuss. “Have you seen any good films recently?” we would invariably ask each other.

I remember one time asking her about what films she enjoyed as a child. Very stupidly on my part, I said, “I be you loved Shirley Temple.” That was not the right thing to say to Patricia Hansen.

"Shirley Temple!” she exclaimed. “No! I couldn’t stand Shirley Temple!”

I once jokingly threatened to buy her that Shirley Temple collection of films that we often see advertised, to which I received a very clear, “No thank you!”

But it was of course our love of the Episcopal Church that really caused our friendship to bond. Patricia loved the Episcopal Church. She loved this particular church, Gethsemane Cathedral. Probably her lasting presence here is the St. Gabriel window, which she donated. If you take a look at it you will see that there are two very personal symbols located in that window: There is a rose, for Patricia’s mother, Blanche Kennedy. And there is a West Point shield for the love of her life, Major Bob Hansen. I doubt any of us will ever be able to look at that window again without thinking of Pat.

More specifically, Pat loved The Book of Common Prayer. Now, people often ask me, “so, what is it you Episcopalians believe?”

And I say, “We believe what we pray.”

Our liturgy—what we find contained in our Book of Common Prayer—encompassed our beliefs very well. And, I can tell you, that it certainly did for Patricia Hansen. But, the point we both liked to make to each other was that, some of the finest poetry in the English language is located right there in your pews—contained in the Book of Common Prayer. We have a wonderful advantage as Episcopalians of praying poetry every time we gather together to worship. And Pat loved that.

Today of course is no exception. This service we are celebrating together today is packed from its very beginning to its end with some of the very finest poetry. But probably the best poetry we’ll find is at the end of this Burial service. At the end, Bishop Smith will lead us in what is called “The Commendation.”

The Commendation meant the world to Pat. She loved it. She loved its poetry and she loved its spirituality.

Now for many of us, we have heard the words of the Commendation hundreds of times. But that, as Pat would tell us, is no excuse to not pay attention. Pay attention to these words, she would no doubt tell us today. Listen closely to them. Because if you do, you will find THE poem that summarized Patricia Hansen’s faith and life and integrity in many ways.

In the Commendation, we will say,

Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints,
where sorrow and pain are no more,
neither sighing, but life everlasting.

You only are immortal, the creator and maker of mankind;
and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we
return. For so did you ordain when you created me, saying,
"You are dust, and to dust you shall return." All of us go down
to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia,
alleluia, alleluia.

That poem is pure Patricia Hansen. That is a poem in which, even in the face of all that life—and yes, even death—throws at us, we can hold up our heads with integrity, bolstered by our faith in Christ. Even in the face of whatever life may throw at me, we can almost hear her say, I will not let those bad things win.

“…yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia,
alleluia, alleluia.”

Even you, death, will not win out over me. Even in the face of these awful things, I will hold up my head and I will face you with strength and grace and class. And, because I have faith in my God, you will not defeat me.

Today, all that Patricia Hansen was to us—that woman of strength and passion and love and integrity—all of that is not lost. It is not gone. Death has not swallowed that up. Rather all of that is alive and dwells now in Light inaccessible. All of that dwells in a place of peace and joy, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.

And for us who are left, we know that it awaits us as well. That light awaits us. And we to will have the opportunity to dwell there.

See, Pat is still teaching us. She is teaching us by her very life and faith, how to face these hardships life throws at us. She is teaching us to face it all with our heads held high, bolster by our integrity. She is teaching us that, in the midst of all of this, we must do so with class and dignity and strength.

I will miss Pat. I will miss our discussions. I will miss her wonderful critiques of my work. I know the next really good classic film I see, my first temptation will be to let her know about it and to see what she has to say about.

But I am thankful to God that I got to know her and to be a priest to her and to be her friend. And I am even more thankful for all that she taught me and showed me of how to live a life of integrity. Those people come along only rarely. And when they do, we are not the same people we were before we knew them.

So, let us today be thankful. Let us be thankful for this woman whom God has been gracious to let us know and to love. Let us be thankful for her example to us. Let us be thankful for all that has taught and continues to teach us. And let us be grateful for all she has given us in our own lives.

Into paradise may the angels lead you, Patricia. At your coming may the martyrs receive you, and bring you into the holy city Jerusalem.

Amen.





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