The Unitarian Church was overflowing a couple of weeks ago. After 29 years, Frank Hall was giving his farewell sermon. I remember my first time at that lovely, upside-down ark of a church with its roof open to the sky. It was Earth Day 1987. I remember many soft Christmas Eve candlelit services where we wiped our eyes, singing carols from our childhood. Not a few times, Frank was Santa Claus himself for some organization looking for the perfect stand-in with a white beard and a twinkle in the eye.
My daughter was married by Frank. So was I. He partied and danced with us at the wedding. My grandchildren were dedicated in his arms. He wondered at the miracle and utter uniqueness of each child he welcomed into the world. The seasons passed overhead, year after year. We could look up and see them. I didn't go regularly. But every time I was there, Frank's sermons were meaningful and funny and true. And I kept coming back. He was always there, a man perfectly matched in talent and character for the tasks of his profession. That is a fortunate thing -- for him and for us.
This last sermon, he borrowed for inspiration from "The Little Prince," that wonderful child-like tale by Antoine de Saint-Exupery that many of us first learned of in French class. It is about taming -- a mysterious concept. It is like love, but more. It is very careful. It is consistent. Above all else, it can be counted on. It is deeply about trust and deeply about caring. It is, also, about joy at another's existence. Taming starts from nothing and grows into a relationship that feeds the soul and swells the heart.
It is not clear in the taming experience who is tamed. In the story, the fox asks the Little Prince to tame him, so that his (the fox's) heart can beat fast in expectation of the Little Prince coming, and so that when the Little Prince is not there, the fox can hold him in his memory and feel. The experience seems to be the fox's. Yet, the Little Prince had already tamed a rose, by carefully tending and protecting it and thinking about it. So, it seems, the Little Prince was tamed since his heart surged for his rose in a way that it did not surge for all the other roses.
How confusing this is becoming. In the act of taming, one takes the initiative to do the acts of tending and caring for and the other receives and responds. But after only a short while, the receiving and responding become gifts equal to the tending and the caring.We know this happens if we have been parents or had pets or a dear friend or known and cared for a place that has become special.
The art of taming may be in a little jeopardy in our time. We are now able to have robotic pets, relationships with avatars, artificial plants and even entire landscapes. Taming, however, has, it seems, one essential prerequisite -- aliveness. Only when something is capable of dying does it require tending and care and can it be tamed.
In our lives these days, there is much that is not alive. We use things that are not alive. It is possible to use things that are alive, but when we do that, we make them objects. Taming is a whole other ball game. Taming, as the Little Prince and Frank Hall understand, is about treasuring, really seeing, taking time, being careful and consistent and being joyful in the fact of the one we tamed with.
So, I think Frank Hall has tamed me and so many others. Through the many seasons of our lives, Frank and that church, with its windows to world, have helped us all tame and be tamed. And that has helped to make us alive.
Carol Swenson is a counseling psychologist with a practice in Westport. Her "Shifting Gears" appears monthly, and she may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.