My Friend, Alan
I had a dream last night…
Well, several dreams, really. It was one of the very rare occasions where my dream continued after I awakened for whatever reason. They were all about my dear friend, Alan Sutherland. We were in various situations — working, serving, playing, dining, etc. I kept seeing his smile, hearing his beautiful laugh, feeling his strong and gentle arms wrapped around me in a warm embrace, seeing the laughter in his eyes, feeling the love of G‑d and neighbor in his actions and words.
|Photo by Jocelyn Pedersen|
You see, Alan was the rector of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Norman, Oklahoma. He, along with his lovely wife, Judi, served at St. Mike’s and the rest of the Norman community for about 5 years. Whether he was leading a morning Eucharist at a local Senior Center or coaching and reffing a soccer (football) game or being a listening ear and strong support as a chaplain at Norman Regional Hospital or serving the people in various ways at St. Michael’s, Alan was such a wonderful companion. His heart was always open to others.
Last night, after 35 years of parish ministry, my friend retired. While I knew this was coming, it was still one of the most pain-filled moments of my life.
The community came out in droves. People were standing all over the place. Previous priests from St. Michael’s were there as well as other clergy from the community. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. He and Judi has touched so many of us. They’ve helped us. Cried with us. Laughed with us. Guided us to Christ and each other. They’ve been Christ to us when others weren’t.
As I sat there listening to this service, I just broke. My heart splintered. I realized more than I had known, that I missed out on a lot. I was so focused on my own life and ministry. I had missed great opportunities to serve with Alan, to learn all I could from him, to soak up everything I could. I missed out on deepening a friendship that I desperately longed (and still long) for. I just wasn’t present. Like so many other times, I thought, “I’ll call him tomorrow.” “I’ll drop by and see him soon.”
After I waited in line to say goodbye, I had to apologize to Alan. “I’m so sorry that I’ve not been a very good friend for you and Judi. I should have been around more. I should have been here when you needed it most.”
Of course, Alan was Alan. “No, Jack. You’re a great friend. When I said earlier about us feeling [the] prayers [of the people], I meant it. We were carried and comforted by those prayers.”
I gave him another big hug, kissed his cheek again, and walked outside wiping tears from my eyes.
Alan has a very special place in my heart. He’s what I envision a parish priest should — not just do — but be.
I love him very much and miss him more than he could possibly know.
May G‑d bless him and Judi on this next part of their journey. May G‑d’s loving face shine upon them. May G‑d’s healing balm flow over them. And may G‑d’s love be with them always.
Br. Jack+, LC