We were serving hot dogs to homeless people in Columbia, South Carolina, when I overheard a scrap of conversation. I had observed that Arthur knew almost all of the homeless we served that day, but chalked it up to frequent participation in this particular ministry. But it was more than that, it was one of many reasons the death of this particular, (extra)ordinary man will be felt throughout Columbia and beyond.
On the surface, one might be forgiven thinking the only thing extraordinary about Arthur was that he was a Black man married to a White woman, and part of a largely White Episcopal congregation. One would be forgiven for being very, very wrong.
His and his wife’s, Jennifer’s, smiling faces were probably the first two Paul and I saw when we walked through the door of St. Simon and St. Jude Episcopal Church in Irmo, South Carolina. We quickly realized if there was anything going on at SSSJ, Arthur was sure to be involved. He and Jennifer greeted one and all, making newcomers like us feel welcome, and passed out the service bulletins; Arthur passed the collection plate, ushered, and I was lucky enough to teach Sunday School with him a few times. He served our Vestry and the community tirelessly.
Above all, he doted on his girls: Jennifer, his wife, for whom he was a calm, gentle rock through cancer, their three daughters, and the baby grandson for whom he would have been the perfect model of what it means to be a man.
At every event, Arthur was there long after it ended, never leaving until the last chair was stacked, the last bag of garbage toted out. On the Vestry he headed the Outreach Committee, and feeding the homeless of Columbia was something we were privileged to do once a month or so. It was a particularly special ministry for my heart; I’ve written about it here. While I was serving, I overheard that little bit of illuminating conversation about the homeless, and it shone light for me of who Arthur really was as a human being.
Because he worked for the City of Columbia, with the Forestry Dept., Arthur was out and about Columbia every day, and my eavesdropping clarified that the reason he knew all the homeless we fed that day was because he saw them far more often than the once a month I showed up. He was helping them all the time. He knew their troubles and histories, their worries, and who was missing – he’d ask after them by name, like a tall, gentle shepherd, noting the sheep who strayed from the fold.
He was the very best kind of man: faithful to his wife and God, devoted to his daughters and grandson, a good friend, ever willing to lend a hand, hard working and honest. It wasn’t a flashy life, not (on the surface) an extraordinary one but, for me, it was an inspirational life, and cut too damn short.
When I woke this morning I rested my head on Paul’s shoulder, thinking of Jennifer who will have to adjust to the empty space beside her, and I gave thanks for my own, (extra)ordinary man. They are gifts, these good people who walk into our lives and love us, despite ourselves.
I will never understand why bad men flourish while good men, answering work’s call in the midst of a very real storm (Hurricane Irma), die. For now, I am clinging to my faith that all the ripples Arthur sent out, through all the lives he touched with his particularly graceful brand of kindness and compassion, will send his memory on, out into the Universe through their own acts of kindness, bravery, and above all, Love.
Rest in peace, Arthur. I am glad I knew you, if only briefly, and I will pray for your beloved girls. May light perpetual shine upon you.