In television broadcasting land this is the time of year when the season ends for new programming. In this past week alone there were numerous season finales. They all have to end with some sort of cliffhanger now in order to build up our enthusiasm for their reappearance in the fall. In addition to season finales, some series came to an end and we’re left to wonder what will become of the characters who now we will view only again and again in reruns, locked forever in a time capsule. When some series come to an end, the producers sometimes invite old cast mates back for special appearances – like mini reunions. Often times, these characters come back with only a line or two to summarize what they’ve been doing since they “moved on”. Years could have passed since we last saw these characters, but their personal journeys are set aside for this final reunion. I experienced something very much like this last night. I was one of the “cast members” who left the “show” and came back for a farewell celebration. In one word, it was a little “surreal”.

The preaching minister of my former church will be retiring in a few weeks. Last night we celebrated his 22 years at the church with a dinner and program at the Grand Plaza Hotel. It’s been nearly two years since I left this church and started building a life elsewhere. While that may seem a brief span of time, it was more than enough to feel the distance I’ve traveled. While I recognized faces and was recognized in returned, there was a noticeable gap in my emotional connection to the proceedings. I don’t feel the loss of this minister like the rest of the congregation because I have found other ministers. I saw one congregant using a scooter because of injury and/or surgery to her foot, while another one was in a wheelchair. I wasn’t a part of their lives when these things happened, so they felt more like strangers with familiar faces. And even appearances had changed – two years can age people without their even realizing it (not me of course).

My table-mates were made up mostly of my family which helped ground me and saved me from recounting my two year absence repeatedly in one or two lines. Speakers, music, a video and gifts made up the “program” portion of the evening. As for the food – it was beyond anything that I could or would ever prepare for myself. When it was time to depart, I got in line to congratulate my former minister on his retirement and then ran into friends and caught up with their lives. Only once I made connections on a more personal level did any familiarity return, but then, only briefly.

While I was glad to be a part of the celebration, it is difficult to go back to what once was. You often can’t because life goes on and changes you in the process. None of us are two dimensional characters that can be written off for a time and then reappear years as though nothing happened in the mean time. When people leave in our lives we replace them, consciously or not, with others. Once that personal connection is broken it takes a while to reconnect – certainly it’s not something that can be done within minutes.

As for my former church, they will soon have to cast a new “lead” who will hopefully continue the “series” on for many more “seasons”. My former minister will move on, beginning a new phase of his career and perhaps experience a bit of that surreal feeling should he ever make a “guest appearance” of his own. In the end they’ll both realize (if they haven’t already) what I did in moving away – the ending of one thing is often the beginning something else.