I can’t believe he’s dead!
The news came drifting down the street like whispers in the wind. Then slowly, but surely, it built up into a shriek of discordant notes, painful in its intensity.
Only a few days ago I paused to hear him speak. I’d caught glimpses of him previously and noticed how often he was engaged in conversation with a wide cross-section of people. Sometimes as I passed he was laughing uproariously, but more often he spoke with intensity and conviction. Not that he was anyone special. He held no particular political clout, nor did he appear to have many friends who would push his cause. Rather he was a loner, a person not afraid to speak his mind about inequalities and prejudices, especially when they concerned the attitudes and actions of officials.
Then one day something about the man caught my attention and I found myself being drawn into the crowd that was gathering around him. He was sitting quietly by the lake, amid upturned boats in the midst of fishing nets spread out to dry and for repair. His face was turned toward the sea and he seemed lost in his own thoughts. Slowly he roused, as if from a reverie, sighed deeply, and turned his head. Small children circled him, scuffling in their interaction with each other, all vying for his attention. Then gently he lifted one little toddler to his knees and there was an instant hush as he spoke quietly. She wrapped her arms around his neck, and having kissed him shyly, slid back down to the friends. He seemed to have awakened from his reverie. His eyes, drifting about over the growing throng, seemed to carry a deep and intense love for those milling about him. It was as if his meditation, wrapped around him like a cloak, was being extended to enfold all within his gaze.
Sitting there, his eyes moved broodingly over the faces in the crowd until they rested on me. Those eyes seemed to weigh my life, to hold my attention in a grip so firm that I could not turn away. In the silence I was aware this man knew me, as did no other, yet his manner was not intrusive. His eyes spoke of sympathy, understanding and peace. Nothing else seemed to matter, not the passage of time or responsibilities of business. I was conscious only of the compulsion to be close to him. Somewhere deep within me a new emotion stirred, almost an aching for an undefined otherness, intangible, yet intense.
Then with the swiftness of an arrow hitting its mark the moment passed. Children again burst through the crowd as does water through a crack in a dam wall, and surrounded him. He smiled as they skirmished, pressing ever closer to his side. One small gesture from him produced silence, and they sank to the ground. Then he spoke.
His words produced life-sized portraits of the characters in his stories. He was, in fact, the ultimate storyteller. Yet it was not just the words he used, but the dimensions those words opened as we listened to him. They pried open the locks on personal attitudes and responses that had long been atrophied. They challenged everything we had learned, every behaviour we considered reasonable and acceptable. They exploded our concept of love until, in its expansion, love filled every corner of the universe. There was no place or circumstance from which love could be excluded. Logic and rationality lost their prominence as love assumed its dominion. Hate, anger and fear dissolved as they were washed gently by waves of love. New and challenging thoughts, yet he invited us to embrace them, and experience the difference.
Suddenly I became aware he had stopped speaking and had climbed into a boat waiting just offshore. The crowd began moving, some musing over his words, others beginning to bicker over the implications of what they had heard. As for me, nothing mattered but what he had said. He had spoken to my soul and my life would never again be the same.
Rev. Vera I. Bourne of Lismore, N.S.W., Australia, served as Outreach Clergy at Christs Community Church.