My sister messaged me yesterday, “…about Tuga… has he returned to your pocket, or was he so last year?”
I have other Tugas. Three sets, as a matter of fact, of Tuga and Aleluja, sitting on my shelf. One set is promised to someone. The other two are at-the-ready, for when I meet someone who needs a mindfulness token of sorrow and joy.
Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, has had new meaning for me since 2014. That year, early in the morning of Ash Wednesday, my sister called with the news that my oldest brother had unexpectedly passed away after a heart attack.
Yesterday I read through some of the posts I had written in the subsequent days. Most are private now — as in, you can’t read them; I took them down because they were too personal — but the Ash Wednesday one is public.
When I’m telling someone about Stewart, I almost always refer to him as brilliant. Hamilton College undergrad — their first Russian Studies major. Yale Divinity School for his M. Div. and then Syracuse Law for his J.D. He had a home computer before that was a thing — like in 1983. He had set it up to run tessellations — which, of course, has nothing to do with Russian or Divinity or Law.
In the last few years of Stewart’s life I had been frustrated with him. He had been nearly job-less, doing pulpit supply and seemingly little else. Every month my father sent him money to pay his rent.
In the meantime, I was running myself ragged, driving back and forth between Greene and Cooperstown, trying to help my father take care of my mother.
“Why can’t Stewart move in with Mom and Dad?” I griped to my sister. “He could be of real help to them and Dad wouldn’t have to keep sending him money.”
It irked me.
It seemed unfair.
But when Stewart died, and I met the many people whose lives had been touched by Stewart’s, I realized that I only knew part of the story. Stewart lived in a low-income area. He drove neighbors to doctor’s appointments and listened to their lives. His congregation gathered every evening in the apartment complex’s gazebo.
“That’s where Stewart sat,” one lady told us, pointing to a bench at one of the picnic tables. “He was always here for us.”
He had a church, unrecognized by anyone, because it was so informal, yet so personal. It didn’t pay the bills. It paid in intangibles.
I couldn’t see it — I don’t think anyone could — until he was gone, and we slowly unknotted the knot that was his life.
In his book, Great Lent, my Lenten reading for this year, Alexander Schmemann said,
If God loves every man it is because He alone knows the priceless and absolutely unique treasure, the “soul” or “person” He gave every man. There is no “impersonal” love because love is the wonderful discovery of the “person” in “man,” of the personal and unique in the common and general. It is the discovery of the unique in each man of that which is “lovable” in him, of that which is from God.
I looked around my room this morning for something to carry in my pocket for Lent. Tuga had been a good companion last year, but I wanted something to remind me of the hidden person, the God in each person I meet.
Wikipedia says, “Monkey’s fists are commonly used as a convenient and unobtrusive method of storing and transporting precious gemstones.” What can be more precious than God?
God wears a costume of human flesh. He’s in the guy at the gas station, and the friend that encourages me.
But He’s also hiding somewhere in the woman who irritates me, and the man sitting on the couch in the other room, rifling through papers again and again.
I’m going to be on the lookout for Him.