Jerry, I Hardly Met You

The adults in my house have come to the conclusion that 2013 has too many deaths in it already. Our housemate has done 6 funerals in the last month or so, my wife grieves and notices all the catastrophes of late and so far this year I have seen too much death too close to friends.

Today is no different. This evening I drove to Ansonia to support my friend Char at the funeral of her father, “Jerry” Curtiss. The pastor — Rev. Douglas Clark –did a nice job, remembering Jerry as storyteller, then he did the thing that makes psychological sense to me at these things — he left open space for people to say and do what they needed to.

The people who spoke weren’t your standard fare for such things. A woman spoke about Jerry as the kind of guy who took care of his own
parents. His son-in-law spoke about him as a good father-in-law who took in strays. Then a nephew (I think) spoke about him as a fisherman and friend.
The shock of the funeral (to me, anyway) came when a boy –probably 7 years old or so — stood up to speak. He saId a few quiet words about missing his grandpa and sat down with tears in his eyes.

Later, Jerry’s daughter, Sioux, also spoke and the service ended and we were all invited back to the home of family, but the magic had already been done. This man whom I has probably met 3 or 4 times had given me an insight from beyond the grave.

THAT is what I want to speak about. Years ago, when her first-born child was born, my friend Evelyn said the experience was emotionally “like Roots’ picture — holding the baby up to the sky and seeing the connection to every mother that ever been” in her family. Both of my “in-care” people — Char and Carrol Cyr — have been Christian Educators. The new staff person at South Church, Jane Rowe, is involved with the “intergenerational faith formation” movement in the Connecticut Conference with the other two. And Jerry, whom I barely knew exemplified all of them in one felt swoop.

Here’s the point: the Jews have it right. Whether or not there’s an afterlife, we transcend time with our lives. Jerry impacted four generations with one life, even if he never made it to heaven. He reached backwards in time, impacting his parents’ generation. He reached through his own time and his daughters’ and son’s generation. He touched the next generation after that, impacting the memories of his grandchildren. Whatever experiences he imparted to his grandchildren will be felt as well, by a fifth generation. Not bad for a man who, in theory, only lived onelife and now lives in eternity.

Each of us has that chance to transcend time through our one life, and probably do. The question, of course, is in what way?. Does our life reach across the generations with love, as he apparently did, or do we reach across generations with hatred? Do we care?

For those of us that are lucky enough to have children, the answer — for good or bad– is obvious. But even those who don’t literally give birth, give birth anyway if they are involved in education or mentoring or sharing or leading youth. this is how we transcend time and live forever, often even without knowing it. If God rewards us with an actual afterlife, that’s a special gift, but one we have proved we can handle if we cared enough to share our values in this life.

Jerry pulled it off. Maybe we can, too.




Don’t Let This Happen To You — Sudden Loss (for Lynda and others)

“This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it”. Psalm 118:24

“For every minute you are angry, you lose 60 seconds of happiness” — unknown, seen on the desk of my friend Alan Bercovici


I frequently preach this, but it has never hit quite this close to home.

I suppose I first thought it in this way when 9/11 happened. Later any number of relatively faceless tragedies have occurred and I have had the same thought.  When people ask me, “Why did God let this happen?”, I let them know that I don’t have a clue why these things happen.  Actually, there’s almost always a reason — corrupt systems, people’s pain, mental health or physical health issues or just plain dumb bad luck. 

That, however, is not the question people are asking when they ask about tragedy. They are asking about theodicy: “How does a God who’s in charge of the universe and loves us allow me to get hurt suddenly and apparently permanently?”. To that question, as a person of faith, I answer that it only appears to be permanent. What we see and know bears no resemblance to eternity with God. Having said that, I don’t have a clue why God allows people to die and why it hurts so bad to be left behind.

Still, I have maintained for years, as a matter of practical advice, that 9/11 and Aurora and Newtown have something to teach us. If you were a family member of someone who died in one of those tragedies and you had known then what you know now, what you have said to your loved one? How would you have acted toward them? Whatever that is, that is how you should treat them while they are still alive, because you never know what the day holds. THIS is the day you’ve got. As far as you and I know, it’s the only day you’ve got. If there are people that you love, like, think the world of, or treasure, this is the day you’ve got with them. You can waste it with busy-ness or with pettiness or bitterness or anger or you can use it to say what you need to say while you have the chance. This is the day that the Lord has made. Try to rejoice and be glad in it.

Today, my friend Lynda’s husband died — of a heart attack. Now, knowing Lynda as I do, I am sure that she treasured him every day, and was nice enough to tell him so. I am sure he treasured her as well. She will need your prayers because no one has a clue why these things happen. Regardless of why it happens, it does and it hurts like heck — after we get over the shock.

In the meantime, you and I have work — good work — to do while we can. Don’t let what happened to Lynda happen to you without your doing what you can.