Friday, January 16, 2015

Broken Hearted

The only picture I have of myself and Gary Whitaker is out of an old church directory. There we are on the back row, behind the ladies, in a shot of the choir.

There are a lot of memories in that one snapshot. All those choir practices, me the new guy who'd never sung in front of people and completely ignorant about reading music. Gary would point to a note and raise his thumb or lower it, indicating that my voice should probably try to follow.

Gary Whitaker (back row left) and I.
On those many, many occasions when my warbling would wander off into some unknown dimension, Gary never fussed. He never made fun of me ... maybe he did once or twice, but it wasn't harsh criticism. We'd laugh about it and I'd try to follow along.

I tried to follow along with Gary in a lot of things. I was ordained as a deacon in our church in October 2003, and during the service, he leaned over and whispered something in my ear.

Don't ever let 'em get you down.

I didn't exactly know what he meant then, but I do now. I left the choir at one point, and while Gary never asked me why, I think he understood. I hope he did. He approached me one day after church and said that he had something he needed to say to me.

I figured something out about church a long time ago. When you go to church, you need to come in, worship with all of your heart and when the service is over, you need to just get the hell out of the building as soon as possible. 

I couldn't help but laugh. It was Gary's way of telling me not to worry about the stuff that sometimes goes on in a church and to focus on what really mattered. It was good advice. I've tried to follow it ever since, with varying degrees of success.

Less than a year ago, we had a fundraiser at church for my mission trip to Costa Rica. It was a success, raising every cent needed. Gary bought a bake-sale cake that night for $100. Later, he approached Jeanie and handed her an envelope. He told it wasn't for the cake -- he'd already paid for that -- but wanted for us to have this as well.

Don't look at it, now, he said. He told Jeanie he knew we'd be having various incidental expenses for the trip and this was to take care of some of those. Inside were ten $20 bills. I used the money to pay for my passport and photo and kept the change and receipts in the same envelope he'd given us.

Honestly, I'd meant to give him back the change and the receipts. I'd meant to, but never did. And  now ... I can't.

Gary died yesterday, the result of an accident while on a cruise with wife Susan and some buddies from their Honda Gold Wing club. I'm in shock, hurting from the kind of loss I haven't felt in a long time. It's nothing, of course, to the pain that Susan and their daughter Shelley are experiencing right now.

The thing to know about Gary is that he was a bearded bear of a man, the very essence of a good ol' country boy. I can't imagine what Heaven must be like tonight, with Gary singing in that rich, full voice of his.

I'm looking forward to hearing it again ...

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