Seasons of Love
“Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes…” If you’re already humming, you know two things - 1} this line opens the musical Rent and 2) it’s the total number of minutes in a year. This song is also what immediately came to mind when Patrice told me this month’s Epistle theme was Seasons of Life. In the song, a group of friends wonders “How do you measure a year in the life?” Could it be that tongue-twisting number of minutes in 365 days? Or is it “In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee? In inches, in miles, in laugher, in strife”? Or is there another way to mark one turn around the sun?
Bill Feeney’s life seasons began in Quincy, Massachusetts, where he was the baby of four siblings. Bill grew up in the Catholic Church, where he served as an altar boy and was active in the Catholic Youth Service. He was on the swim team in high school and subsequently, college, where he also captained the water polo team and started lifeguarding. During the tumult of his teen years, Bill “found sanctuary in God, prayer, and faith.” However, he didn’t “surrender to God” as a teenager.
Another season turned for Bill when he transitioned to the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. It was only 100 miles from his hometown, but Bill felt “like it was another planet”. He was unprepared for the shock of “real life” and began to “question everything, including my faith”.
After graduating with a BFA, Bill moved to New York City in 1985 to pursue his calling as an artist. Thanksgiving meant a visit back to Quincy, where Bill reunited with Cindy, whom he’d known in high school. Cindy was on break from her studies in international business at NYU. By Christmas, the two were dating, and in January of 1986, Cindy left Quincy to join Bill and attend Hunter College to achieve her BS in Environmental Science. While Bill worked construction and fulfilled his artistic visions, Cindy worked for the Environmental Action Coalition.
They had great friends and enjoyed the urban life for 8 years until Bill wanted to explore an MFA. Bill “only applied to schools where he could surf and do rock climbing”, and, besides, Bill and Cindy wanted to “experience something different from the Northeast”. Bill was accepted to UCSB, and Cindy enrolled in Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to pursue a Masters in Environmental Science.
Faced with a big move across country and talk of children, Bill proposed to Cindy on the 4th of July in 1993, thus setting in motion three weddings. Why three, you ask? To hear Bill tell it, the saga began with a simple desire to avoid the expense and anxiety of a big church wedding, the pressure of which was already starting to build, mainly from their respective mothers. So, at their goodbye party in NYC, Cindy and Bill arranged for a Justice of Peace to join the festivities and eloped there and then! When those moms found out, they were none too pleased with the newlyweds, wanting them to have a church wedding. So, Bill and Cindy obliged with small ceremony and party with their new friends in Santa Barbara. Apparently that wasn’t quite what the families back in Quincy had in mind. So, in the summer of 1994, the couple had a full church wedding and reception – as Bill puts it “rings off, rings back on, dresses, ushers, limos, the whole nine yards” – for 350 of their nearest and dearest! So much for the avoiding the stress and outlay of cash. As I say, “Moms will out!”
Cindy and Bill spent the summer of 1993 in Solana Beach to establish CA residency for grad school and because Bill had the opportunity to work as a lifeguard. So, after Bill graduated with his MFA and Cindy with an education certificate, the two moved to Encinitas in 1996. Their first daughter, Blue, arrived in 1997 and Ruby shortly thereafter in 2000. A number of factors – shifting family dynamics, “staring down 40”, and the transition to southern California – all caused the ground to shift, and another season unfolded for Bill. I’m turning this over to him as no one can tell his story better and “sum up several years into a few sentences”.
“I’d always been a drinker through college and after but was able to hold it together until the kids came along. I couldn’t balance the physical, spiritual, and emotional demands of having children with everything else and was drinking heavily. My life completely fell apart; I overran God. After twenty years of an absent, unstructured spiritual life, I surrendered to God. At that point, I was in great need and feeling profoundly unworthy of God’s love. When I came around, I was completely humbled and beaten up by it and came to God. Getting sober through AA gave me the tools to forgive myself and made me a different person in all good ways.”
Seeking a connection to the Divine, Bill, Cindy, Blue, and Ruby started attending the Spiritual Realization Fellowship, where Bill felt “taken care of” but never really “felt like I belonged because it wasn’t where Christ was.” He’d attended AA meetings at St. Andrew’s and decided to walk into a Sunday service. As Bill says, he “wandered into my spiritual home” and had “a profound, spiritual experience” unlike anything he’d felt before.
Bill thinks St. Andrew’s, at its core, shares with AA the value of “attraction, not promotion.” In other words, folks are drawn to our community as “Without striving to be evangelists, we bear witness to God’s love.” He cites St. Andrew’s “openness and lack of agenda centered on service and love, not compliance” as our offering to a troubled world. Bill “needs to be at St. Andrew’s as much as I need to be at AA. I need to be with other people who know it works to change lives and are humbled by it.” After a year or so of attending St. Andrew’s, Bill “needed to start earning, not just taking” his connection to God and assisted with various service projects, helped the Youth Group, and is serving on the Vestry.
Since his college days, Bill spent the better part of his summer at the pool and beach as a lifeguard. For several years, he’s been the director of the Solana Beach Junior Lifeguard program. A change in direction this year meant Bill spent more time in the office with administrative responsibilities than with the kids in the water, as in previous years. “That transition was hard this year”, Bill says, and he’s tried to “give himself room to feel that.” Summer’s end is “always a bit of relief, as the pace is incredible”; Bill likens it to tax season for a CPA. “When you get worn down, you strip away the unnecessary parts of your life and just stick with a schedule to get through. Not a great place in which to create art.” Bill says that although he can do the detail work of projects already started, “generation of ideas don’t doesn’t come in times of stress. At the beginning of the artistic process, you need the latitude to wander” and explore ideas. Here’s hoping Bill gets all the time he needs to wonder and create!
We’ve appreciated the inspiring results of Bill’s artistic wandering, as we admired his work in galleries, at his studio, and in venues like last year’s Encinitas storyteller exhibit. His paper branding project revealed his subject’s story through a series of eloquent images. But I have a more prosaic, personal-to-St. Andrew’s example of Bill’s gifts. Probably 10 years (no, more like 5, right? Don’t tell me it was 10 years ago…), we were preparing for the annual Children’s Christmas Pageant and considering staging, including how to cover the altar during the “performance”. Gillian mentioned that Bill Feeney might be a good resource from whom to get some ideas. When we approached Bill, he immediately offered to not just make a quick backdrop – something we could throw over the altar – but a full-size (at least for our diminutive cast members) manger and door frame (for the inn scene, don’t you know). After several years of rebuilding the pieces, Bill even managed to make it in such a way that we could easily (for him) deconstruct, store, and reconstruct it. We’re still using it now after all these (however many) years!
So how do you recall a year in a life? Or remember a whole lifetime? The friends from Rent ask “How about love?” They discover hours are spent “in the truths that she learned, or in times that he cried, in bridges he burned, or the way that she died”. Bill’s narrative echoes the ones we read in the Bible; lives transformed through detours, serendipity, cherished moments, and second chances, always illuminated by God’s light. We know that, when our hearts join with God’s purpose, time never ends, and we measure all seasons of life in love.