Black and White, and Colour too

Last Friday evening my wife and I attended the annual Gala celebrating Waterloo Lutheran Seminary’s graduates. The class this year was nearly 30 in number; young and not so young women and men who will make their mark in the world as counselors, chaplains, educators and pastors. It is always a proud and bitter sweet moment for us. Our students are the diamonds in the rough of the academy; they make our jobs worth the while even while they sometimes complicate our carefully crafted theologies and challenge our scholarly sense of self importance with the demands of teaching people rather than topics. We take this time to bid them well and adieu. Alongside this celebration, we also fêted Robert A. Kelly, our church historian who is retiring after 28 years at our school. Bob has been something of a institution in our institution. Students all have favourite Dr. Bob memories: his witticisms, his passion for the Gospel, his endless patience for students, and his utter lack of patience for entitlement and self-importance. Bob has been a compass in our community and we will miss him terribly.

Many colleagues and students stood up to recall fond, funny and formative memories of their interactions with Bob. As I listened to them, it struck me that this moment was one of those rare times in a life when you see something of the whole of someone. Random recollections from a broad selection of interactions gave me a richer picture of Bob. As I sit, now, and think about this it was rather as if I had been looking at a black and white picture that, for a moment, became multihued: or perhaps the reverse was the case, since both black and white and colour, too, have a peculiar beauty related to their different utilities. In my mind, black and white brings certain things into relief even while seeming to instill in us a sense of the ambiguous, mystical quality of life. Colour, by contrast, seems to celebrate not only diversity but also the utter incongruity of existence: how can it be that we are, rather than are not? Of course, both black and white and colour are good, true, and beautiful. We need to celebrate both the mystery of a person as well as their flesh and blood concreteness. We need to see both; to embrace both.

Friday was an important day for many reasons. It reminded us that we are a people composed of those who gather together. Next fall, when Bob is a visitor to our school, we will be a different folk. Our face changes as faces change; and this is both celebrated and mourned. This is both black and white and colour; both mystery and facticity – all nourished by memory. On Friday we remembered Bob and the students who leave with him this year; they are not gone, but they are differently present. Friday gave us opportunity to see who we were even while we anticipate who we will be. It was a moment to delve deeper into our identity; to remember that identity is slippery business, but a blessed business because we are remembered by God as well as we are remembered by one another. God knows us inside out because God sees us in black and white, and colour too.

10 thoughts on “Black and White, and Colour too

  1. Marie Taylor says:

    Your reflection reminds me of the exercise we go through when someone passes and people share their memories. At my mom’s wake I learned new aspects of her I had not known before. We are more complex and multifaceted than our sometimes narrow perspectives allow. Another thoughtful journey- thank you.

  2. agjorgenson says:

    Thanks |Marie. Yes, retirements are, in many way, like wakes; graduations less so, but not altogether other. All three remind me of the mystery we are to both ourselves and others.

  3. shoreacres says:

    I think it’s a sign of how terribly wrong things have gone down here in the good old U.S of A. that my first thought upon finishing your piece was, “Oh! Thank goodness! It wasn’t about race.” Then, I went back and read it again, with a slightly more relaxed attitude.

    One of the great gifts of the various photo processing programs – even the easy ones like PicMonkey – is that we have the ability to move between black and white and color. It always surprises me to realize that a given photo reveals itself in a completely different way when I switch modes.

    But best of all, your tale of the gathering raised one of my favorite memories – a trip to New York the year Kodachrome was released by Paul Simon.

  4. agjorgenson says:

    Thanks for the comment and the link. I enjoyed hearing the song again but had forgotten the line “everything looks worse in black and white.” I rather think everything looks different in black and white – although I suspect that Paul Simon had the trope of “black and white equals clarity” in mind rather than my sense of what happens with black and white in photography. Oddly enough, the race image didn’t come to mind in writing this – but not because Canada is free of such issues. At any rate, I’m never too sure of the whence nor whither of writing, which is what makes it such fun!

  5. diannegray says:

    It’s amazing how you can know someone professionally for years and not really ‘know’ them.
    Like Marie, this post reminded me of a wake I attended recently where each of the man’s friends from different eras of his life spoke of how they knew him. Once these were all finished I realised the life he had lead was like a rainbow. It was beautiful 😀

  6. agjorgenson says:

    Yes, it really is true, and such fun to see the lives come together in such an instance.

  7. Denise Hisey says:

    I often wonder why we often wait for an ‘ending’ before we make time to really get to know one another?
    I hope Bob stops by often and you all get to enjoy the full-color version! 😉

  8. agjorgenson says:

    Thanks for commenting! I suspect I will see lots of Bob, who really enjoys our daily coffee breaks. Given our regular time together it really is interesting how a so much fuller picture emerged in his retirement celebration.

  9. jannatwrites says:

    I agree with Denise – I wonder the same thing! I also think that black and white and color have their own different kinds beauty – neither one is inherently more attractive than the other.

    I think it’s great you had the opportunity to see your friend/colleague in a different light.

  10. agjorgenson says:

    Thanks for commenting Janna! I agree – there is something quite stunning about black and white photos as well. I’m not sure I got it quite right in describing the nature of their beauty. It is something i’ll have to think about some more.

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