He always seemed to have a smile on his face, an impish grin. He was a perpetual teller of jokes that made us laugh. He even filled our email accounts with hilarity that made even the most difficult day seem brighter. He rarely missed a special event and went out of his way to let us know that he cared. We all enjoyed his company and knew that he loved us and we loved him. What we did not know was how complex he actually was. We had little idea of the depth of his influence on the lives of people all across the city. We did not truly understand how genuine his faith actually was. He was exceedingly humble and rarely spoke of his good deeds or his beliefs. He was not just the same person as his words, but more.
He had been suffering for years but did not complain about his pain. His only goal was always to make each of us feel happy and loved. We did not know that he had been given a deadly prognosis many months ago. When his time here on the earth was drawing to an end he spent most of his last moments attempting to make us feel better about losing him. Then he was gone and we all felt adrift. We spent Monday and Tuesday laying him to rest but mostly learning how truly awesome he had actually been. It seems that he had busied himself for decades making life just a bit more pleasant for virtually every person that he met.
He was enchanted by the Christmas season, his favorite time of year. Each December he donned a red suit and invoked the persona of Santa Claus for the children at his church. He took his role quite seriously, becoming the incarnation of the jolly old soul. His smile and his generosity was magical. It was as if Father Christmas had come down from the North Pole to visit with the kids but it was his giving spirit that lit up the room and it did not ever end there.
He was always only a phone call away from anyone who needed help. He responded to an SOS regardless of the time of day or the difficulty of the task. He made things happen with a determination that was unfailing. There were many souls who felt a debt of gratitude to him but he never asked for anything in return for his favors. He preferred the cloak of anonymity to glory.
He loved his family and His God above all things. He worked hard at his job bringing the same enthusiasm to his work that he gave to each minute of his day. His routine never failed to include prayers and devotions. He had a second sense about who might need the comfort of his unending belief in the Lord. Just the right words for an occasion would pop up on a Facebook wall or an email post. His sensitivity matched his sense of fun. He loved every breath of his life and inhaled his blessings with gusto while giving back even to those who did not return his favors.
When he knew that he was dying he did not falter. He believed that the very best was yet to come, the paradise of eternity. He smiled at the thought of the reward that surely awaited him. He was unafraid and even inspired the priest who anointed him for the last time. He was surrounded by family and friends to whom he had meant so much. He knew without hesitation that God was waiting for him.
The church was packed for his funeral. Those who had known him from childhood and those who had only recently had the honor of calling him friend spoke of his optimism and goodness. They remembered laughing with him and were able to recall times when he went out of his way to help them. The outpouring of love and appreciation for who he had been was remarkable. It almost seemed as if a king or potentate were being honored, or perhaps a saint.
We left his body under the shade of a tree not far from where my own parents’ remains now rest. We all believed that his beautiful soul was already luxuriating in heaven, a place for which he had longed. We were sad, not because we did not appreciate the reality that he was no longer suffering, but because we knew how much we would miss him. We had learned just how real he truly was. We worried a bit that our lives would never be quite the same without having him around to enchant us. We suspect that our gatherings will be just a bit bleaker and yet even in death he has somehow made us feel good. He taught us how to truly live and we are certain that he wants each of us to take a chance on opening our hearts to everyone that we meet.
We all know of individuals who appear to be good Samaritans but are actually hypocrites. They put on a face of virtue but their character is only skin deep. Finding someone who never wavers from the path of righteousness is not an easy task and yet in this man we found someone who was the genuine article. For that we will always be grateful even as our hearts ache just a bit today. I know that I am the better for knowing him. I suspect that he wants me to remember his family for they are surely hurting. It will be difficult for them in the coming days, weeks, months. There will be moments when they think of him and long for him. They will need our support and sometimes just a friendly ear.
They say a good man is hard to find and yet so many of us realize that we knew one in knowing him. I suspect that he will continue to watch over us just as he did while he was still on this earth. He will be a heavenly guardian angel now instead of an earthly one. One day perhaps the heavy feelings that now envelop us will be gone. I can only pray that we will never forget his example and the message of hope that he gave us.
This man taught us that a good life has little to do with possessions. Those things are fleeting and of little worth. All we need embrace are the people that we encounter as we go about the living of each day. If we truly and faithfully trust in God just as he did we will receive the best possible rewards and our impact will have been immeasurable.