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The Rev. Carl Scovel, minister emeritus of King’s Chapel in Boston, and recipient of the UUA’s highest honor, the Distinquished Service Award, gave an amazing speech delivered before the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in Fort Worth, Texas, on June 23, 1994. This is known as the Berry Street Lecture of 1994.

I knew Carl back in the mid-1950’s when we both attended the Gannet Club, a club for singles, at the Arlington Street Church in Boston. He was a serious young man, very knowledgeable and headed for the ministry even then. He had grown up in China as his parents were missionaries there. I remember once riding in a car with him and another bright young intellectual by the name of Karl Nelson (not sure of that first name), going to some club function. They were discussing 19th century religious people, and referred to someone as “the last of the Transcendentalists”. I was very impressed with their knowledge, and that expression stuck in my craw. I wonder whatever happened to that Nelson fellow.

Here is a inspiring excerpt from Carl’s lecture:

We also know that spirituality is not simply the product of fear, frustration, or bad digestion. We know that our yearning for meaning and fulfillment is given in our very being. So! Follow that yearning, need, reaching to its source, to our creation, to our createdness and surmise with me, if you will, that this yearning, this reaching, this need, is no accident, no psychic atavism, but a reflection of that reality from which we come.

The Great Surmise says simply this: At the heart of all creation lies a good intent, a purposeful goodness, from which we come, by which we live our fullest, to which we shall at last return. And this is the supreme reality of our lives.

This goodness is ultimate—not fate nor freedom, not mystery, energy, order nor finitude, but this good intent in creation is our source, our center, and our destiny. And with everything else we know in life, the strategies and schedules, the technology and tasks, with all we must know of freedom, fate and finitude, of energy and order and mystery, we must know this, first of all, the love from which we were born, which bears us now, and which will receive us at the end. Our work on earth is to explore, enjoy, and share this goodness, to know it without reserve or hesitation. “Too much of a good thing,” said Mae West, “is wonderful.” Sound doctrine.

Do you see how the Great Surmise stands all our logic and morality on its ear? Neither duty nor suffering nor progress nor conflict—not even survival—is the aim of life, but joy. Deep, abiding, uncompromised joy.

I would like to thank the Rev. Richard Beal for providing this excerpt and telling us about Carl Scovel’s Berry Street lecture.

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Two and a half months since I entered “Cynthia’s Ashes”. Though I still mourn for her, why not bring this blog back to life?

I had an interesting weekend. I drove to Cambridge, Mass., on Saturday, the 10th to visit a new friend I made on Match dot com. (Yes, I’m playing the “dating sites”) She lives in Cambridge Cohousing and is one of the founders back in 1998. Fortunately, old friends from the Arlington Street Church in Boston live not far from the Cohousing and they had a room available for me to use overnight on Saturday.

I met my new friend about 5pm on Saturday, not knowing what to expect, even though we had exchanged a few good emails and I had liked very much her profile and photo on Match dot com. But she turned out to be extremely personable and we got along just fine.

We chatted for a while first in her apartment over wine and delicious celery/anchovies (I should have taken a second) and got to know each other almost right away. Very compatible attitudes toward the world and toward each other. Then we went to a great restaurant in Harvard Square, the Casablanca. She drove there in her car and found a nice place to park not far from the restaurant and the Loeb Drama Center.

After more good conversation and delicious food (I couldn’t finish mine so she suggested a doggy bag which worked out just fine for my supper at home last night) we walked to the Loeb Drama Center, less than five minutes from the restaurant, for the performance of the highly praised musical documentary/comedy Three Pianos. The Loeb was packed and the performances by the three characters and their ever shifting pianos was fascinating and hilarious throughout.

Wine (free) was passed out several times during the evening consistent with the goings on on stage, the Schubertiad which was acted out by the three characters. The Schubertiad was a group of friends of Franz Schubert who would drink, make merry, but most of all make and create music. The action of the three consisted in going through each of the 24 songs in Schubert’s famous Winterreise. It was both hilarious and instructive the way they did it: they had to assume the audience didn’t know German and also they gave us a lot of history while the amusing revelry continued and the songs were played and described. My date and I thoroughly enjoyed all of this.

She dropped me off at my car parked by her place and I drove to my friends’ place with the key one of them had given me earlier. I parked my car safely in their driveway and early Sunday morning I drove directly to the Norway UU church in Norway, Maine, in time for choir practice (well, I had to stop several times for food and bathroom).

A great time was had by all!!

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This is a copy of my talk at Cynthia’s memorial service, celebration of life, on May 28, 2011.

Let’s roll the clock back 49 years to September 1962. I’m sitting in the choir loft beside fellow bass George Whitehouse at the Arlington Street Church in Boston. In walk his wife Janet and a new girl I’d never seen before. “Wow!” I whispered to George, “Who was that?” He wasn’t sure but thought she might be working at the UUA at 25 Beacon Street.

A couple weeks later she followed me down from the choir loft. “Don’t you ever speak to anyone?” she said. Not sure why I hadn’t, but I was pretty shy and it may have been my fear of rejection. At any rate I remember I was pleased and ended up driving her home that day. We chatted for quite a while and then we walked over to a park nearby, Palfrey field I think it was. She was walking a little ahead of me in the park and was wearing her green dress which fit so nicely. I caught up with her and kissed her. It was then I sensed a certain shyness in her too, a sensitivity under her outward brazenness, and I fell in love with her. I have that vision of her in her green dress to this day. Yes, she captured me but I captured her too.

We became lovers fairly soon after this. We would go back to my room at Westbourne Terrace in Brookline after choir practice, have a glass of wine, chat, and more. At church when the choir wasn’t performing we would write notes to each other on the order of service and pass them back and forth, pretending to be listening to what was going on down below. We became pretty inseparable.

I would even drive her to Harvard Square in the morning where she could catch the subway to Boston for her job at the UUA. I would drive from my place in Brookline to her parent’s home in Watertown where she was staying. Then I’d drive her to Harvard Square and we’d talk all the way. Then I’d drop her off, turn around and head out to Bedford for my work.

Just a few days ago I found a note from that time which she had saved in a calendar book. It was a note I wrote while at work telling her how sorry I was I didn’t drive her to Harvard Square on that particular day. The note began: “Sweetheart, I’m so sorry I missed you today. I missed your smiles and your talk and your golden hair”. I explained again the reasons I could not drive her (I had called her early in the morning to explain.), and then I closed with “Sweetheart, I think we are getting still closer.” Yes, she was my golden girl, my one and only unique Cynthia, and she stayed that way for nearly 49 years.

Now I’ll fast forward to May 2, 2011, the last day she spent in our house in Denmark, Maine, the house she designed, had built, and had loved so much. She was eating very little then and would not stay seated for more than a couple minutes while I was trying to feed her, sometimes with Kate’s help. But the one thing she did love to eat was ice cream. I would sit in front of her while she was on her soft chair and spoon feed her French vanilla ice cream. She never refused this. Her mouth was always open and ready for the next spoonful. This was our last shared joy.

On May 3 the ambulance took her to the Hospice House in Auburn, Maine. She died nine days later on May 12. I was with her in her last hours and through the end and I still called her sweetheart.

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