Friday night: Andy and I went to Jayne Anne Phillips’s book party for LARK AND TERMITE. She read, not long, a passage following each of her characters, and the section following Termite, the crucial brilliant consciousness of a developmentally disable boy, had a poetry that I hadn’t caught in reading by eye, with a mind to writing about the book. A ton of people came– her fans, and maybe more than might have come after the terrific review of the book by Michiko Kakutani. Among the folks there– local friends Dawn Williams and James Van Oosting, and, more of a surprise– Wesley Brown! He had come down from upstate to hear Jayne Anne, and said that a novel is such a long hard effort, it deserves to be celebrated– which is such a typical Wesley comment, wise and kind and appropriate.
And then I ran into Dawn again today, at the funeral for Rev. Roy A. Butler Sr. The funeral was a wonderful mixture of heavy hitters from the area churches, mostly American Baptist churches (Roy was active in the American Baptist Churches organization-- latest name of the Baptists I grew up among))– there must have been 20 or more ministers in attendance, along with his many, many friends and his large family, including one sister, a minister herself, who sang and got the crowd up and singing with her and generally roused. People talked about his preaching style and musical abilities and his passion, and of course how he is happy now that he’s gone home. It was also mentioned how he walked the walk as well as talked the talk about welcoming women into the ministry– his wife Marsha is now ordained, and she was an assistant pastor along with Sandra Pendleton-Rock who I’ve know from the earliest days of FAN when I first moved to this area and began to get involved in stable integration work.
I of course knew Roy as a founding trustee of the South Orange/Maplewood Community Coalition on Race. He was an essential member– creating what became the Interfaith Outreach Committee, and participating in some of the deepest, most impassioned discussions of our early days. After he moved on to focus on building his church, he continued to be supportive to us in all ways he could, and I remember one of the last times I saw him, I had called to ask about distributing some of the Coalition’s flyers to his church, and he said, as he always did, Anything he and his church could do, anytime, please ask. You felt like your request was a compliment
So I drove the flyers over and put them in the mailbox as he'd said, and then drove around the building– and there on the other side was Roy, on his hands and knees, wearing a beautiful colorful short sleeved sports shirt and one of his elegant hats– planting flowers. I rolled down my window to speak, and he got up, brushing himself off, looking just a little rueful, then said, indicating the trowel and flowers, “It’s part of the ministry of service.”
We really do miss people when they go. Just speaking yesterday of Andy’s mom, Sherry, who my mother reminded us has been dead for sixteen years. Actually sixteen and a half. They live on, time goes fast, some cultures say the dead one is happier now, has transitioned to the other side! Some howl their mourning. Anyway you slice it, we miss them, and willy nilly carry them with us. And when we go? Do they go too? It would be nice to believe otherwise, but also helps to realize how many there have been, how many loved, how many sterling personalities, how many more precious ones yet living, yet to come.