As I write this short note, I am preparing to return to Jackson from New York City to preach at the funeral of a good friend, who died last night. My thoughts are too full of him this morning to write about anything or anyone else. I beg your indulgence as I write a few words about this good man, whose life, I think, is worthy of reflection even for those who never knew him.
Bob (his real name—he needs no protection) was a mensch. As you know, I am not Jewish, and I don’t know a lot of Yiddish—just a few choice words, primarily useful while driving in NYC. But I do know a mensch when I meet one. And this guy was one. His goodness was bred in the bone; it was as though no one ever had to remind him to be good. Although my mother till the day she died felt compelled to say to me every time I left her, “be good,” I doubt that Bob’s mom ever felt the need to say it. He just was. I didn’t know him as a child, but while I am sure he was a normal rambunctious kid, I also am as sure as anything in the world that he was never a mean kid. It just wasn’t in him. His character was filled with genuineness and integrity, which is to say he was at one with himself: the real deal. He did what was right, responsible, and kind in big ways in his profession as a seasoned physician—mentoring young new doctors coming into the practice even as he provided a consistent voice of decency and good sense for his long-time partners, many of whom had practiced for many, many years. But also he was all those things in little ways as well, another sign of character. As his death was approaching, his wife confessed to me that she is a bit challenged technologically. She shared that as though it would be hard for me to imagine. It wasn’t: I know a fellow Luddite when I see one. She said she has ongoing problems with every remote-control gadget ever invented, a fact which never kept her from trying to get it right. Every click led to deeper trouble, many of them requiring re-booting. But this mensch of a husband never got frustrated with her, or if he did, he never showed it, simply saying, “Honey, here let me help,” never adding, as I surely would have, “let me help you for the 1000th time.”
But to be clear, there was nothing priggish or pious about him. In fact, he seemed sort of unaware of his good nature and his spontaneous kindness. It was just who he was, no pretense, no hypocrisy. What an amazing thing to have said about you. We should all be so honored.
Though no doubt this story is replete with morals to be learned, my guess is that Bob would roll his eyes if he heard me—maybe he is hearing me—putting forth his life as one to emulate. The last phrase in the meta-Buddhist prayer is “may he live with ease.” It is one I pray every day for myself and for those whom I cherish most in this world—to live with ease. Bob did that: he lived with ease. It wasn’t that his life was free of drama and occasional hardship. Somehow, though, he just knew what was important and what was not worth having a fit about it. It was a remarkably Christ-like life, and I am so grateful I knew him.
I wish you had too.