He sounded very certain, as if he'd thought it over for a few days and knew he had to tell me. "I'll never forgive you," he said again, shaking my hand. Then his ears turned pink and his cheeks flushed dark red.
He stammered. "I mean, what I mean to say is, well, I won't forget you." I knew that.
It was Sunday morning and we'd celebrated Pentecost. The announcements were made, schedules noted, what to expect next week. Then I asked, "Is anyone leaving this week?" looking through the room for those who would be transferring to another facility or going to work release or maybe, just maybe, headed home.
I raised my hand.
Five men joined me up front. Together we faced the seventy who blessed us and all of us prayed, "May Christ go before you and behind you. May Christ be on your left and on your right. May Christ be above you and beneath your feet. In all your ways, may you go with Christ."
There was a flurry at the end, all of us wanting to say something memorable. Then they were gone.
After lunch, I came back to the facility for two more services. At the scanner, I saw a familiar looking man waiting to go in to see his son. "Do you remember me?" he asked.
"The face, yes, and we've gotten a little greyer since I last saw you." He told me his name and I remembered him immediately. Brent was at the prison when I started all those years ago. He's been out of prison for 10 years; he's doing well, but this son of his is another story.
"I wondered if I might see you today while I was visiting."
I shook my head and laughed. "Today is my last day here. I'm going to a new job." We spent some time catching up and I went back to the chapel very much aware of the full circle gift.
At the very end of the day, with everything packed and sitting outside the door, a man came into my office. "My brother died in January and I haven't been able to talk to anyone about it." He struggled hard to keep his chin firm. I explained I would send an email to a couple of people so he could talk to someone in the next day or two. I handed him the book where we keep the names of those who have died and told him to write his brother's name there. He started to write. "This is hard," and then he started to cry.
I passed the box of tissues and listened to him talk. The email got written in between. Just a few minutes, the building was closing, but it was enough for him to be heard and tended to. Another full circle. So much of my time has been spent listening to grief, it's fitting that it should be one of the last things I do.
Always a surprise. Always a gift. In all our ways, may we go with Christ.