Friday, July 06, 2012

Friday, July 6, 2012

Today’s text
Mark 6:1-5
With the coming of the Sabbath he began teaching in the synagogue, and most of them were astonished when they heard him. They said, 'Where did the man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been granted him, and these miracles that are worked through him? This is the carpenter, surely, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joset and Jude Jude and Simon? His sisters, too, are they not here with us?' And they would not accept him. And Jesus said to them, 'A prophet is despised only in his own country, among his own relations and in his own house'; and he could work no miracle there … .

Pray for us Tommy. Pray that we might be human beings, like you.

Watching my middle grandson, Ben, fly off a waterslide transported me to hot Nebraska summers in the 1980s. Ben is six and recently became competent in the water. The diving board and the deep end of the pool have become his habitat.

He stands on the low board, winks his left eye at me and tears off the end. For an instant, he is suspended in space, a portrait of abandonment to the joy of splashing into the crystal water on a one-hundred degree day.

He reminds me of his mother, Rachel, … and Tommy, whom I have to thank for this moment.

Tommy was a swim teacher in our tiny Nebraska town in the early 1980s. I remember him at the pool when he was still in high school, returning to serve as lifeguard during college summers.

Handsome, gentle, patient Tommy. I should have guessed his secret, but I was oblivious at that time of my life. We all were.

One day, while my wife and I were at the county fair, Tommy got our half-pint five-year old to climb the steps of the high board and blithely step off into the deep end of the pool. Then Rachel did it again and again and again. She was fearless, and I was proud.

Each time, Rachel shot a sly grin in our direction and casually stepped off the board, floating in space before disappearing in the deep. The sight of this tiny girl at the end of the board made heads turn, also making my mother gasp during her next visit.
I always enjoyed making my mother nervous, so Rachel was a child after my own heart.
I have Tommy to thank. He loved Rachel. He loved all the children that gathered about his legs when he walked the apron of the pool twirling his whistle, and they knew it.

I don’t think any of us recognized what a gift he was to dozens of kids in that dusty prairie town. He was a caring, gentle gift to our community, a community I left several years later, as did Tommy when his time came to move on.

A few years later we heard that Tommy got sick … and died, a very young man. We heard it was an AIDS death. I have no reason to disbelieve the reports.

I suspect few, if any, in that town had an inkling that Tommy was gay. My story begins in the early 1980s, and none of us were as tuned in as we are now.

I doubt Tommy could share his secret there. He lived in a time and place where masculinity was defined by the local football team, not by a clutch of children clinging to your ankles.

I suspect he knew he wouldn’t find much acceptance from those with whom he’d shared elementary classrooms all those years. They didn’t know any better, and people like me just didn’t know--and if we had, I don’t know if we would have been helpful.

We knew only that he was a gentle soul, who loved children, taught them to swim and won their hearts, including the heart of a small girl named Rachel, whose joyful abandonment I now see on the face of a dark-haired boy named Ben. He gets it from his mother

I have you to thank for this, Tommy. It all started with you.

And I wonder … I wonder how many times we miss the sweet goodness of souls near us, the ones among whom we live day-to-day, taking for granted the grace we receive from them, little knowing how far it will reach.

It makes me wonder, too, … what will Ben’s children do?

Pray for them, too, Tommy, your goodness goes with them

Pr. David L. Miller

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