On July 27, the Sojourners blog carried the sad news that Art Gish, a long-time peace activist and peacemaker was killed in a farm accident. I had the privilege to meet Art and his wife Lillian through a mutual friend, Ray Foss. Ray arranged a several day visit for me to West Virginia presbytery a while back. He set up a number of ecumenical gatherings and it was there that I met Art.
Art’s life reminded me of the importance of resistance and working for justice and peace.
Art’s death reminded me of the fragility of life and the preciousness of the people with whom we share living.
It moved me to write about an experience I had on July 28 – an experience I now share. Note that “today” is July 28, 2010.
I think I said farewell to a friend today. Time may prove me wrong and that would be wonderful. But if it was farewell, it was good. Very good.
On my way out of Cleveland, headed to Elkhart, IN for the Peace Among the Peoples event, I stopped at the Fairmount Heath Care Center of Breckenridge Village Retirement Center. For forty-five minutes, I had the joy, some times bittersweet joy, of visiting with Merdine T. Morris.
Merdine T. and I have been friends for more than 20 years. Friend really does not do our relationship justice, she is my mentor, teacher, challenger, comforter, disturber of my peace, guide, anchor . . . the list goes on. She and her husband Luke play and have played and will play significant roles in my life. Luke passed away some 10 years ago.
Merdine T. and I have shared some amazing moments . . . conversations . . . experiences . . . times of learning and growth . . . times of disappointment . . . ordinations . . . presbytery meetings (incredible to say, I know) . . . graduations . . . transitions . . . acts of justice . . . moments of witness.
In a small way, I was privileged, with Tricia, Sean, and Eric, to accompany Merdine T. as Luke courageously and graciously made a long journey through illness and into the shadowed valley. It was a time of great prayer, deep conversation (and silly talk about football among other topics), and profound silence. The sacrament of communion sustained us . . . communion shared with bread and juice . . . communion shared at the Morris home . . . communion shared in the hospital . . . communion shared with ice cream.
Luke died shortly after I moved to Louisville. I believed then and will always believe (and I told this to Merdine T. again today) that one of Luke’s gifts to me was to hold on until I was not in a position to have to lead his memorial serve . . . so I could simply grieve deeply for my friend.
Merdine T. and I have remained in touch since I left Cleveland. We have attended some events together. We call periodically. When she called me on the night of President Obama’s election, I could touch the excitement and joy and pride and pain in her voice. I still get chills remembering that call. When I get back to Cleveland, I try to visit Merdine T. Most of the time I manage to do so.
Now illness has become her companion. Oh, she has been sick in the past. I remember meeting Luke once in an emergency room . . . within half an hour, there were enough Presbyterians in the waiting room to hold a presbytery meeting (Merdine T. served in many, many capacities – she was moderator of the Presbytery of the Western Reserve and she was Freda Gardner’s roommate at General Assembly until Freda was elected GA moderator).
But things are different now . . . Merdine T. has been hospitalized several times over the last month. Twice I had tried to visit her but found her too tired to interact.
By July 28, she had returned to the Fairmount Health Care Center. I decided to try one more visit . . . on my way out of town. And we visited . . . we talked . . . we laughed . . . we cried . . . we remembered . . . we failed to remember . . . we dreamed of the future.
But perhaps most importantly, I told her what her friendship and love means to me. I told her (again) what Luke’s friendship and love meant to me.
As I left, we hugged . . . as well as two can hug when one is in a hospital style bed. Through tears, Merdine T. said “Never forget me.” “Never,” was all I could say . . . nothing more than that simple one-word truth fit.
Leaving her room, walking back to my car with misty eyes, it occurred to me that, given Merdine T.’s health issues and her age (“If she won’t tell you, I sure won’t.” said Luke one day) and my schedule, this could well be the last time Merdine T. and I see each other in this life.
And that saddened me. I had to stop and process that for a few moments.
But I also realized that this visit had been a moment of grace abounding . . . an incredible experience of the unconquerable power of love. Merdine T. and I may get to see each other again . . . heck, we may see each other often. But if we don’t, we had the opportunity to say farewell . . . and to do so extremely well. We said what we should have said long ago. We said what we each knew the other one already knew. But we said it because we realized how important it was that we not only know, but that we hear it from each other.
And that is good. Very, very good.
See you along the Trail.