Goodbye Old Friend

old

I knew him first as an opponent on the football field.  My little college in Oregon didn’t play intercollegiate football, and so the intramural competition between houses on campus had an importance all out of proportion to its quality or any kind of common sense.  After my house team trounced his house team on the way to the school championship one year, Steve stopped by my room for a visit.  It was a recruitment trip.  He ventured down the street and into the enemy’s camp because, as he later told me, he was tired of looking up at me after I had knocked him down on the football field.  Steve was a quarterback and I was a defensive lineman.  And so he made all kinds of promises about how great my life could be on campus if only I would agree to move into his house before the next football season.  Why, we could even be roommates Steve told me!  It was laughable, quintessential Steve.  But out of that sheer nonsense a genuine friendship was born.

Steve was the very first person to greet me when I got to Ft. Worth.  Literally, on the day when Mary Lynn and I pulled into the Brite parking lot at TCU, Steve was there to welcome us to our new “home” and take us out to dinner that night – pizza at Crystals.  At TCU we finally got to play ball together on the same team – the Brite “Bombers.”  A year ahead of me, Steve and I were in graduate school together for only two years.  But our friendship deepened greatly during that time.  His signature is on my ordination certificate, and mine is on his.

We were always something of an odd couple.   I’ve always been big and slow, Steve was trim and athletic.   I’m something of a bookworm, Steve was anything but.  I reveled in the intellectual stretching that seminary afforded me, taking every course on Bible, theology and church history that I could.  Steve viewed seminary as something that he just had to get through so that he could be ordained and then work in a church.  He took every practical ministry class that he could.  But somehow the friendship worked, and endured.

Steve’s journey through life didn’t unfold in a straight line.  There were some failed marriages and some failed ministries.  We saw each other pretty regularly through the years.   He would suddenly call out of nowhere and say that he was going to stop by.  I remember waiting at a little airport in far West Houston for hours one evening because Steve had called and told me that he had hitched a ride and was coming in for a visit.  He wanted me to meet his new wife.  He didn’t show.  That marriage didn’t last, but our friendship still did.

We lost touch for a while.  Steve just disappeared.   And then one day he was back, in Maine of all places. And our pattern of occasional phone calls and e-mails picked up again right where it left off.  He was forever making a wisecrack about something I wrote.  But the fact is that Steve still read everything I wrote and watched everything I we posted on the church’s Facebook page.  I knew that he was out there paying attention to what I was doing because he would respond to the pictures, web devotionals and blogs. Steve was my friend, a good friend.

Well, I got the word last Saturday that my friend Steve died.  I didn’t even know that he was sick.  I sure wish that I could have visited with him before he left.  Steve was not the easiest friend that I’ve had, but he was one of truest, and I just wish that I had had the chance to tell him that.  I would have liked the chance to tell Steve that I loved him, I really did.  But then again, I’m pretty sure that Steve knew.

topless

After a good friend of his unexpectedly died, Philip Yancey wrote that the only thing that could really have helped him in that moment of his loss would have been to somehow get his friend Bob back again.  And that prompted this profoundly meaningful meditation on the Gospel –

On the day Bob made his last dive, I was sitting, oblivious, in a cafe at the University of Chicago, reading My Quest for Beauty by Rollo May. In that book, Rollo recalls a visit to Mt. Athos, a peninsula of monasteries attached to Greece. There, he happened to stumble upon an all-night celebration of Greek Orthodox Easter. Incense hung in the air. The only light came from candles. At the climax of that service, the priest gave everyone three Easter eggs, splendidly decorated and wrapped in a veil. “Christos Anesti!” he said — “Christ is Risen!” Each person present, including Rollo May, replied according to the custom, “He Is Risen Indeed!” Rollo May writes, “I was seized then by a moment of spiritual reality: What would it mean for our world if he had truly risen?” Rollo May’s question kept floating around in my mind, hauntingly, after I heard the terrible news of Bob’s death. What did it mean for our world that Christ had risen?”

…When I spoke at Bob’s funeral, I rephrased Rollo May’s question in the terms of our particular grief.  What would it mean for us if Bob rose again?   We were sitting in a chapel, numbed by three days of sorrow, death bearing down on us like a crushing weight.  How would it be to walk outside to the parking lot and there, to our utter astonishment, find Bob. Bob! With his bounding walk, his crooked grin, his clear gray eyes.  It could be no one else but Bob, alive again!

That image gave me a hint of what Jesus’ disciples felt on the first Easter.  They too had grieved for three days.  On Sunday they heard a new, euphonious sound, clear as a bell struck in mountain air.  Easter hits a new note of hope and faith that what God did once in a graveyard in Jerusalem, he can and will repeat on a grand scale.  For Bob.  For us.  For the world.  Against all odds, the irreversible will be reversed.

Because of Easter, Philip Yancey talked about the day when he was going to get his friend back.  And today as I write, thinking about my old friend Steve, all I can say is… me too.  DBS+

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