One day recently, it occurred to me that I had not seen or spoken with my friend, Dick Lord, in more than a year. I found his number and planned to ring him up for a game of golf or another of our long breakfasts at Denny’s, but I heard the news before I could call. Dick had contracted the West Nile virus and was near death. On a hot July morning, hundreds filled University Christian Church in Fort Worth, Texas, to say goodbye.
Dick was 82, but his father was shooting his age in golf well into his 90s, and I assumed that my friend would be doing the same. His loss was a shock to so many, especially the utterly random way his fatal illness came about.
But something powerful keeps intruding on the sorrow I feel for Dick’s loss. That is gratitude. I had a chance to luxuriate in the grace of a great heart and a great and questioning mind, contained in one extraordinary human being.
Dick was founder and longtime pastor at Rush Creek Christian Church in Arlington, Texas, a congregation just down the street from the home where we lived for many years. It was a uniquely welcoming and progressive place. One example was the importance Dick and his wife, Janice, a nationally known victim’s rights advocate, placed on building relationships with Jewish and Muslim faith communities in Arlington.
When we joined the church in the early 1990s, Rush Creek became a sanctuary of love and support for my wife and I at a time when both of us needed it. From my book, “I’m Proud of You: My Friendship with Fred Rogers,” some of you will recall the story of my young son’s singing performance at a Christmas pageant, which put me in touch with years of unshed tears. That was at Rush Creek. Dick was one of those who wept with me that night.
He was a shy man, very humble, but something came over Dick when he preached. Inspired is the only way I could describe it, taking the various strands of Scripture and Christian teaching and weaving them into a message that was always achingly relevant.
But he was more than my pastor. I used to kid Dick that it was very unseemly for a man of the cloth to cheat at golf. Not that he did. I’m sure it was just an accident, all those times he stepped on my ball in the fairway. He loved golf, and loved beating me at golf, without apology.
What I remember most now, however, are all those mornings when we sat across from each other at a booth at Denny’s. As I listened to the stories of his life at Dick’s memorial service, this dawned on me: It is a pretty good bet that we were the only two customers in Denny’s discussing the Danish philosopher and theologian, Soren Kierkegaard.
But that’s what Dick and I talked about — what religion and the great thinkers had to say about good and evil, about suffering and redemption and the seeming randomness of it all. He was a person of profound faith, without doubt.
But Dick was never content with the pat answers of dogma. In book after book after book, in conversation after conversation after conversation, he insisted on exploring the mysteries of life, insisted on asking the great questions, knowing there wouldn’t be answers for most of them in this life.
A great heart. A great soul. A great mind.
The funeral was so Dick. The great hymns and blasting organ music, which he loved. A tinkle of a bell, followed by periods of silence. And readings from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Genesis and the Book of Kings, but also Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel; German pastor and anti-Nazi dissident, Detrick Bonhoeffer; the great Catholic writer, Richard Rohr.
That morning, as we said goodbye to Dick, a memory from one morning at Denny’s came back to me. I had stumbled across a quotation from Kierkegaard and shared it with him over eggs and coffee.
“There is no remembrance more blessed, and nothing more blessed to remember, than suffering overcome in solidarity with God,” Kierkegaard once wrote. “This is the mystery of suffering.”
That I should remember that on the day we said goodbye, after the great suffering of my friend, was Dick’s last gift to me.