You know how you know somebody, but you don’t really know them? In the last year, I have been realizing how little I know someone that I think the world of — Cy Sherman. Cy is the wife of Gordon Sherman, whom I have talked about frequently in this blog.
Gordon and i have had numerous talks over the course of a lifetime about deep theological issues, spiritual matters, and he has been the one to talk to in a crisis. He has been the one whom God sent to talk to me when my life’s problems got way over my ability to cope with them. I stayed in seminary because of Gordon, Gordon spoke at my ordination, Gordon may, in fact, be the most impressive man I know, not necessarily because of what he’s done in the wider world, though he’s done a lot, but because of who he is and what he has meant to me (and and probably thousands of others).
And behind him has always been Cy. In fact, a year ago or so when I was talking to a friend about the idea for this blog (originally going to be called “Be Careful of the Quiet Ones”), she told me that Cy would be embarrassed if I said anything about her, that she’s not like that, that she likes being in the background, and “anyone that knows her, knows that about her”. Remember I said I don’t know her very well? I’m pleading the fifth here, because Cy has been a blessing to me in ways that I had never noticed before. Besides that, I think “it’s a girl thing” — one of those things that women understand about being in the background that guys never get to hear. Again, I plead the fifth.
When female colleagues preached on the Mary and Martha texts in seminary, they invariably understood Martha a whole lot better than they did Mary, and they made the case for who she was in life. Cy is Martha, writ large, in my experience. I don’t know how she got that way — if it was culture or genetics or tradition or the time she grew up in, but I assume some of all of them — but Cy has always quietly done. Where Gordon is all spiritual and like water flowing — ethereal in some ways — Cy is like rock — the rock of ages, which has cleft for me.
Many people don’t know this, but the time between the end of seminary and my ordination was a difficult time for me. My emotional life was a mess because of a woman and I was depressed and I was beginning to process some extraordinarily difficult things and had no place to live because the friend I was living with couldn’t stand to see me depressed. So, with nowhere to go, I showed up at Deering because surely they would take me in there. And indeed they did, Gordon and Cy. In retrospect, I’m not sure I had the right to do that, but I did and they took me in.
Cy never looked askance at me, never said, “You’re depressed. What are you doing here?”, never asked when I was going to leave, never said anything negative. Cy, instead, said, “Here’s some towels and sheets. We’ll see you at dinner”. Cy and I have had conversations about people and some about politics, but only because she had a gay son. I n addition to that, she would talk some about the local church she belongs to and the way that Gordon and she thought the pastor was a good person.
We didn’t talk about existentialism or the deep symbolism of inclusive language. Frankly I didn’t need that. I’d done enough of that for the previous three-and-a-half years. I could hide in her, but there was still work to be done. I needed to go out and put another log on the fire. Cy would ask me to do that and I would. A table would need to be set or forks put out and I would do it. Life marched on, with or without me, it seems and Cy reminded me, without fuss or muss, that there was a parade I’d miss if I weren’t involved. I didn’t have to be anything but involved, because Cy showed that there was always work to be done. How did she do that? I didn’t notice at the time, but Cy both worked herself and required something of me, when I didn’t necessarily think I could do anything. She was the gentle nudge of continuing life that had to happen.
This past year, as I do the organizing work for the Deering reunion, Cy is always there — offering encouragement, offering to help, sharing information, doing, and doing — not enough to make a fuss or call attention to how much she does, but if you look close enough, you know she’s there. She just does things. When Gordon has gotten sick, Cy has been there for him, and for those who care about him. She could say she’s got enough on her plate, but she nonetheless acts as the conduit of information to the wider world. And for that, the ongoing Deering community is grateful.
Cy’s spirituality is interesting — it is both spiritual and practical. Among the things that I know she’s been involved with, but I haven’t seen first hand, are Tres Dias and De Colores, which connected her to God in ways I don’t know, though many of my friends do. Her spirituality seems to come from a place of morality and piety. When Jesus says “Do things without making a big fuss”, Cy seems to take that to heart, because it’s the right thing to do. She has raised three very different but fine, Christian children to be different but fine, Christian adults — in the best sense of that word. I’ll bet she’s a good grandmother, too.
She comes from a place I respect, but one that is, in so many ways, foreign to me. In the modern world, women have careers and can (or can’t) care for their families. It’s their choice. I don’t think that Cy got that memo. As smart and as talented as she is, I don’t think her family ever lacked her presence, her wisdom or her stamina. She was, and remains, that mother, that wife, that person. That’s not all — in the years since Deering closed, she has treated us all like family at the drop of a hat.
Cy is, above all else, moral. Instead of just talking about her morality, though, Cy does the footwork that shows she knows what she’s talking about. Coming from a missionary family, the Scudders, Cy has made trips to help the people of India on numerous occasions. The work of the family in India has great significance for her, and, of course, the people she helps. For years, she and Gordon have been active in PFLAG — Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.I don’t know, (as I’ve said, there are lots of things I don’t know) but I suspect it was a challenge for her at first, but she is now a well-respected and much-loved person in the denomination and in the world of gay rights within the church. Friends in California knew her and Gordon due to her work in PFLAG. Just recently she, along with her husband, won an award for community work — at nearly 75 at the time, that’s a pretty big deal. If people do, indeed, get stars in their crown for doing good works, Cy is going to need a bigger crown.
As you can tell, people love Cy and many of us haven’t even remotely experienced all of the things she is or does. I’m not sure she wants people to know how much she does, or even that does anything. Cy remains under the radar, and I hope I haven’t ruined that for her, but for her 75th birthday, I wanted her to know how special she is.