I got a call this morning that one of my male friends – the rare kind that you can call anytime about anything – died suddenly of heart failure. I am writing him a farewell letter that I will share with the family, since I won’t be able to make it to the funeral.
Here is an early draft:
Well Henry, what you used to say turned out to be true. I’m hurting. You’re the one who told me you wanted people to hurt, in words something like this: “if it doesn’t hurt to say goodbye, you haven’t connected, so I want it to hurt to say goodbye.” Knowing you are physically gone hurts. So you did it! As I think this, I can hear you, your softly rumbling voice in the memory of my head saying a resolute but unsmug “Well. Good!”
And as I hear that the hurting turns mysteriously comfortable. Oh pain is still there, but the warmth of that flagrantly open and honest admission I know you would make spills down my face and I feel lighter… yet more grounded, and I find myself celebrating the connection we had, and it becomes hard to tell what kind of tears these actually are. They are glad-sad tears, and then they are sad-glad. There is joy in them, gladness about the connection that can’t be erased by your death, value in the experiences we shared, appreciation of the enduring wisdom of the insights we were led to together in our many seemingly rambling yet Life-finding conversations.
Our first meeting comes to mind. My second sermon as a student pastor. After, you came barreling up to me at some point and said words like “I’ll bet your professors love that sermon, but it didn’t do Dick-all for me!” Just what a rookie preacher LOVES to hear. But I needed to hear it. Truly. For I was in danger of heading off into preaching a heady gospel I was learning about at Seminary.
We became friends out of that somehow, and you introduced me to the gospel of the Sow-minary. A Gospel that fits the pig-pen of life. Today, partly due to how God used you to direct the shaping of me, I am no longer a pastor, but am working in the pig-pen of Addiction treatment, because church work was in part too neat, too tidy, too boxed in, and the whitewash baked on too well, the manure pit too unreachable to be able to raise a healthy stink that meant the land was being made fertile again.
So now I’m helping wean addicts off the swill they’ve been using and become addicted to because they believed that they should NOT feel, so they did not learn to acknowledge they have a soul, a spirit, and did not learn to nurture it, and came to find themselves in a hell where nothing would numb the inevitable inner pain that results. And they appreciate learning, slowly, how to feel and acknowledge and express pain and other feelings. They come to Life as they learn to get rid of their manure. So thanks for that Henry.
There is much more. I’m sure over the days more will come to mind. You and your outlook not only resonated with me, but they are woven into the fabric of who I am now, and the threads you put in are hard to identify.
Some memories that are flooding back can’t be shared in such a public way, such as some of the experiences we had making Elder visits. For a couple of these I still haven’t figured out what exactly happened, they are not explained in any expert’s book (you’re the one who gave me a new understanding of Expert: “Ex” means before, or used to, and “pert” standing for pertinent, so an expert is someone who used to be pertinent. The real pro’s are the ones who are still doing it). But the book I find the most similar stories in is the Bible. And the moving force in those events was definitely Spiritual and beyond or above what you and I were capable of. You encouraged me to explore these things. Yet I don’t think you ever did that intentionally. You went with whatever came, and I tagged along. Hmmm. Sounds like discipleship to me…
I still use some of the Semordnilapses and other word games you introduced me to now and then. Yeah, you didn’t know that’s what they were, but I just looked it up, and its the word palindromes read backwards. like LIVE and EVIL, and especially LIVED and DEVIL as an illustration that if we live in the past looking only backwards then the devil is likely having a heyday.
By now, you might be getting a big swell headed, so I need to remind you that you could be pig-headed too, and get so locked into something that the world outside of you would disappear. I remember the time you called me and begged me to come home with you because you knew you had really blown it with Jean out in the offsite barn preparing pigs for shipping, and you had been so trapped in your own stinking thinking that you totally trampled on normal conversation and created a chaos that met Jean’s inner wounds with salt… and well, you and Jean know the rest of the story, it’s not mine to tell. But boy did I learn about me trying to help you!
Around you is where I learned to make use of an ability to see patterns, to see when there is likely something behind what appears to be going on, like the Wizard behind the curtain. I just used that ability effectively just yesterday, where a group was amazed when all I did was show clear patterns in someone’s story.
A woman was talking about sneaking cookies before going to sleep at night and how that was wreaking havock with her Diabetes. She had already talked about other things she did to numb pain, and how she doesn’t remember having feelings since being 5 years old. She talked about how she has nerve damage in her feet from her diabetes and how that damage is traveling up her legs. Then she talked about how she has lived most of her life feeling as if she was only “living only in the top half” of existence. So I named the patterns I heard her speak of: I hear you say your life is about numbing your pain, and you are eating extra cookies at night to do that, just like you used alcohol at night before, and you feel like you are missing half of life and your abusive sugar intake is causing you to go numb from your feet upward. That alarms me!” The stunned reaction of all present when I said that surprised me. I keep forgetting that not everyone listens and looks for patterns and what might be said via them.
I remember exploring with you if there might be another way to avoid overeating other than willpower, because we both saw that deciding NOT to eat the cookie made us WANT the cookie more. And I began to learn to look at the cookie and not even want or need it, and it would stop “calling me.”
From that my mind wanders over to another shared learning, namely that “Humility pursued is already lost” or any virtue pursued can’t be gained by reaching for it. If you decide to be humble today, you are not likely to succeed, because you will be measuring all you do on a humility scale, and the moment you think you are doing well, any humility you had is gone. It’s so simple. Yet it’s profound.
What’s even more bizarre is that once you see that and let go of any need to be humble, people start calling you humble.
Henry, you were a humble, wise man. It hurts to know you’re gone. And that is good.