It seems odd that only a year has passed by since Bernie left us. It feels much longer, and the space he left, much larger. Jinhee and I still find it hard to think he’s really gone. Closure is lost on us: Jinhee was near-term with little Ice, so we couldn’t make it to Bernie’s memorial. And so sometimes we feel like he’s just over in Boston, and the next time we visit, we’ll laugh with him again.
But in reading the online memorial, my heart aches. He’s gone, and I can’t feel better by telling myself I’ll see him one day. Even though it’s true, and I will. But death isn’t just a doorway: it’s evidence of the ways things shouldn’t be. And one day, Death won’t be anymore. That day, however, is still a long way in coming.
Last year when we were asked to contribute to this online memorial, I found myself in the rare space where words failed me. How do I pack his life and all that he means to me in such a limited medium as words? I’m no artist, but songs and paintings would be better. Something with some heft and weight to do justice to an old friend. Or perhaps laughs and groans. Something earthier, emotive.
So I laugh hard when I see an old picture:
Bernie’s red-hot angry in this picture. We’re all vacationing in Orlando, and he’s trying to sleep. But in our juvenile ways, we start poking Bernie with a broom and then snapping a flash-photo in the darkness to capture his expression. The first two times went without incident. But on the third time, he jumped out of his couch and grabbed the broom. You can imagine the giggles.
And I’m puzzled when I see this picture:
I wonder why we loved snapping these ex-presidents of KCF/ACF pictures. Such vanity. But we loved it and did at every chance we met. I could fill up your inboxes with many such pictures.
And I smile when I think of him racing down the court, with black knee-high socks and industrial-strength googles held fast to his head with an elastic band, and getting off his lean-to shot at the buzzer that banks off the backboard and gives the MIT basketball team a needed win. The team stuffed him into a garbage can in joyous celebration. He won the game: and he had the right to talk trash. (And that joke is where the earthy groans should kick in.)
But when I realize that he’s gone, my eyes tear up and I miss a good friend. He was someone who loved Jesus, and wanted his entire life (work, finances, relationships, marriage, etc.) to all fall under His leadership. And his goofy laugh spoke of a large heart that cared deeply for the people around him. He had a way of welcoming and bringing people together, and then looked for ways to help them along. In that way, he was a pastor who had dribbling skills. But more than what he did or what he’s like, he was a caring friend and a wonderful partner in ministry.
That’s the stuff that’s particularly hard to put into words: there’s no real reason why we’d be friends. Sure, there’s similarities that gave the opportunity for our paths to cross, but in the end, we had a fun time together and then took risks to open up our lives to each other, and in it all, we became friends. And more than anything else about him, I miss him. A brother who called me, friend.
But he’s dribbling now, or singing karaoke, or wolfing down shaved ice. And I’m sure he’s waiting to welcome us again.
Missing you, brother.