Sunday, December 04, 2016
When Beth asked me to say a few words this morning, I rested in the silence for a while remembering. When I went to jot some notes I headed the document “Remembering Terry.” But that seems to me to miss the mark. To remember is to put back together. It’s just wrong to think that I am remembering Terry. He was among the most put together human beings I’ve ever known. He does not need me to re-member him.
Instead, I only wish I could recall him – that is to say, just call him back. Just once more, say, “hey, Terry, did you bring your saw with you? Let’s play some,” or, “hey, Terry, you feel like putting together a grits soufflé, maybe?” or, maybe just, “hey, Terry, how about a Tom & Jerry?”
Reading the posts so many of you shared on Facebook following his death this week I was struck over and over again by a common thread: Terry could find something extraordinary in the most ordinary. He could create quirky, lovely party favors out of objects found buried beneath the house. He could make stunning photographs out of bacon grease. He could make a style all his own out of someone else’s castoffs. That he could make haunting music out of a homely hand tool should come as no surprise.
More than that, though, he could find beautiful chords in the cacophony of community life. When the vendors at the farmers market, the boss from a job you held 30 years ago, the crazy artists, the neighbor down the street, the parents of your young adult child’s friends, and those friends all write touching notes of appreciation about you, you know you’ve lived life well.
Someone wrote on Facebook this week that Terry lived a Christ-like life. I really wish I could see the look on his face in response to that. I’m sure he would have a wry smile and arched brow beneath an angled hat as he pondered the suggestion, and shrugged it off.
Terry was a gentle agnostic when it came to doctrinal questions of religion, but he got exactly right the most important parts of what I think of as faithful living. He knew how to do what he could with what he had right where he was to make others’ lives better. And he knew how to do it with love. Whatever space he occupied, he did so with warmth and generosity, and with a natural hospitality. He was at home almost anywhere he found himself, and he made others at home there, too.
I love that he and Beth lived, both in Athens and here in Atlanta, close to train lines. Terry had friends from both sides – all sides – of the tracks. He was never afraid to be himself, and when you live like that – unafraid – you are not afraid to make friends, connections, community everywhere you go.
I never saw him walk on water, but if being kind, warm, generous, and loving as you bring out the best in everyone around you is Christ-like, well … I don’t know about that. I do know that the religious language of salvation is way over-used, but at its root it simply means wholeness, well-being, and right-relationship. Terry lived that fully. My own faith tells me that the restless Spirit at the heart of creation is loving and eternal – good all the time and in the time beyond our experience and understanding of time. I trust that Terry rests in that gentle and everlasting love.
I do know a few things with utter certainty: I know that Terry loved my sister well, and could almost always make her laugh even if the laughter included an eye-roll at whatever crazy thing he was thinking up to do with whatever crazy thing he had dragged home. I know he loved Willamae beyond words, from her first sentence – “wanna beer” – to the last time you spoke there was deep love behind every syllable. And I know he made our family’s life richer, fuller, and brighter.
For more than 30 years, the Ensign clan has been so happy that Beth brought Terry into our circle. His kindness, generosity, creative spark, and great good humor have helped us hold together well through all of the kinds of ordinary joys and sorrows that families share: the births of a next generation and the deaths of an older one, the birthdays, marriages, and anniversaries, the Christmases and Fourths of Julys. All of the ordinary days that Terry could so often make extraordinary.
We will never stop recalling you, Terry, your laughter will echo in our memories the rest of our days and our broken hearts will hold you in love. The gospel of John begins with the beautiful poetic insistence that a “light shines in the darkness, and the darkness shall not overcome it.” We hold you in that light, today. Rest in the light, dear brother.