Dennis is a guy I met a few years ago. Our first work together was a failed attempt at establishing a walk-in health care center for the poor in our little town.
Later, he helped me usher a young friend away from suicide and into a slow pattern of recovery to what has since become a fairly happy and productive life. He was an MD/Psychiatrist early in his life but hadn’t practiced in quite some time. And still he helped my young friend greatly.
For the last year, intensely in the first months after diagnosis, Dennis walked with the family of a young husband and father friend of ours who received a sentence of glioblastoma (brain cancer). His care made a huge difference in their adjustment to their fate.
And over the last year, it’s been my turn to walk with him as he battled the threat of depression that comes from unemployment.
Saturday morning, Dennis was at a church conference when his wife, Anne called. She had checked into their only son’s bedroom and he was dead.
As he said at the end of Gregory’s homecoming service today, their world ended at that moment.
And yet over the last two days, I’ve learned that their world may not have ended since they have chosen to carry on their role in life, to love freely and well.
Last night, Anne, as people crawled through the long line toward 20 year old Gregory’s casket, many commented about Dennis, whose tears were a constant stream and could not be contained. She’d say, “Oh, don’t worry about him, it’s just his turn to cry – we take turns and tonight is his”.
I wish to put into practice Anne’s grace.
Then today I watched in awe as Dennis chose to give his own son’s eulogy.
During it he prayed from poems and bible verses but most of all he spoke of love.
He didn’t speak only of his and Anne’s overwhelming love for the son they will not see on this earth again. He instead spoke passionately about love, over all. After the service, I told him that he was a “hound of heaven”.
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
To dozens of Greg’s friends who were in the church he offered continued welcome in their lives and their home, reminding several that they had keys to the house that he wouldn’t ask to be returned.
And he spoke most brilliantly of the vulnerability of those who love freely.
“Some will tell you that what you need is faith, and I say to you all, no what you need is love. If we but risked a bit more love our world would stop bleeding and the cries of mothers and fathers everywhere could be comforted.
The love of God shatters our fears and frees us to live the Beatitudes. You cannot perfect love without being vulnerable. One who loves must endure to taste the sweetness of fulfillment. Understand that if you risk living the Beatitudes you are at the mercy of those you love.”
That’s when my world was altered just a bit as I remembered that love is the absence of fear. I committed just a little more deeply at that moment to the life I want to live, helping others to find love where fear resides.
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat--and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet--
"All things betray thee, who betrayest Me."
Some years ago, I did a silent retreat and on our last day we heard from a teacher who told us there were three levels of love.
The first level is what much of the world does, which is to resist love.
Our wife isn’t loving enough, our Dad doesn’t agree, our kid doesn’t deserve what they’re getting from me. These come from fear of not being loved, fear that we are wrong and fear for the outcome of the life of a child. We allow fear to take over and we proudly resist the love that is available to us.
The second is taking and giving love. Under the right conditions, from the right people, we give and receive the gift of love. We all experience love at this level……..but it’s gotta be “right”.
The rarest form of love, my teacher said, is the third level – being love.
The great bible verse on love: 1 Corinthians 13 was read during the service. But more powerful even than these words for me was to witness my anguished, greiving friend say these, his last words of the eulogy I will never forget:
“To love in this way is not easy. Love that is at the service of others leaves scars – scars of the heart and sometimes of the body. When you approach the stature of pure love you will understand. Such love is vulnerable; it may be taken advantage of, rejected, abused and can be painful. Scars tell stories, both the wounding and the healing. The story of wounding is almost always a story of the lack of love. The story of healing is almost always a remarkable story of love. If you love you cannot avoid being scarred. If you love you cannot avoid being healed. The purpose of our lives is to love so that the creation may be made new.
What I have left my Gregory is love, love for you and for all who you touched in this life. Much else is lost with your death, but not love. I hope, I pray, I ache that you hear it echoing in the Stars, “we love you.”
Let us so love that believing becomes natural.
Ancient rabbinical teaching, which doubtless Jesus was taught, then lived includes this prayer:
May it be that like God we think;
Like God we care;
Like God we love. Amen"