How George Took Me In


By Justin Travers

George died yesterday.  Or did he pass?  I never know which to use.  Pass is softer, but he died.  Either way, I am sad.

I was just getting to know George.  He was a recently retired professor from an Ivy League school.  He joined our church.  It wasn’t long before he was an integral part of the church – part of its center.  He served on the Vestry committee.  He was there when a decision was needed about what to do about the broken window and the minister was out of town.  He was a presence at meetings and workshops.  People liked him.  As Kris told me the day after he died, “He was an inspiration to me.”

I didn’t know George very well.  I had just begun to get to know him.  I liked his honesty, his willingness to talk openly about anything, his intelligence, and, most of all, his compassion.  But I was just getting to know who he was.  And then the abrupt permanence of his leaving.  He was gone.

Why was I so sad?   Yes, I was saddened by the loss.  I was saddened to think of the pain he suffered before he died.  And I could only imagine what his wife of 40 plus years was going through.

But that wasn’t all there was.  Certainly his death got me to thinking.  Yes, when someone passes before his time, we are forced to think about our own mortality and all of that.   We need to live the moment, to find ways to make sure that we are doing meaningful things with the limited time that we have.  That’s what our wonderful minister said.  He is right, of course.  But that’s not why there was a hole.

I found out about George on, well, Facebook.  A member of the congregation, Linda, who was out of state at the time, wrote about her sadness at the loss of George.  I knew George was in the hospital, but I didn’t know it was serious.  So her Facebook post came as quite a shock.  But it wasn’t just what she said about George.  Something else.  She said, “The only place I want to be is with you all at our church.”

The personal meaning that this had for me didn’t hit me until I saw Linda in church the next day.  She had cut her trip short to come to church.  She looked awfully sad.   But then I realized something.  Linda experienced the church – this group of friends and strangers – as a real source of comfort and community.  And that’s what made me realize, well, that Linda’s experience was foreign to me.  I had never had such an experience.   Not in a church; not at work; not at school; not in my family – my family of origin, that is.  Especially  not my family of origin.

Yes, if you don’t feel connected in your homelife, it can last a lifetime.

But yet here was some hope.  Linda’s Facebook post made me want to go to church the next day.  It made me want to hug her, to tell her that she was not alone, to share her grief, to comfort her.  I was able to hug her.  I wish I could have done more.

But now things were beginning to become clear.  It was becoming clear that George had affected me beyond the pleasing times we spent at dinner; beyond the warm conversation that we had in his home; beyond the stories he told me about his life journey with his wonderful wife.

The lesson was this: George touched our community.  George had touched Linda.  Linda had reached out.  And in her reaching out, I felt connected to her, perhaps needed.  Or perhaps feeling that I needed her.  And in making me feel this way, I felt a sense of connection to her, to George, and to the entire community.  I had the experience of belonging that I had never been able to feel before.

And so, without his knowing it, through his passing, yes – his passing, George had put his avuncular arm around me and brought me into his heart, and into the loving warmth of a caring community.

I think I know George now.