I Lost a Friend Yesterday

My friend and colleague Bishop Jerry Roy passed away unexpectedly yesterday. He was quite likely the most interesting man I have ever known, with a diverse background that created a man who was kind, but not weak; strong yet gentle, and he an instinctive compassion that seemed to arise from the core of his being at the slightest hint of someone in pain or need. Such men are often forged in lives of service and sacrifice that are not always easy, but you seldom hear them complain about it. I suspect, but do not know, that the Jerry I knew was a very different man than the young Jerry. I suppose that’s true of most of us.

Unexpected death is always shocking, of course. I have noticed, however, that no matter the circumstances of someone’s passing those left behind tend to express a desire that it was otherwise. I suspect that is a very natural resistance to the whole idea of the passing of someone who is loved. Even when death is slow and drawn out, it still comes as a shock to those who care about the person. Our clergy group had our regular biweekly zoom call on Saturday and Jerry was in attendance, full of vigor and stories – including one in which he shared with us that his neighbor, through acts of kindness after finding out that Jerry was seventy-two years old, had decided Jerry was frail and so extended acts of kindness such as shoveling Jerry’s sidewalk. Jerry chuckled as he told us he wasn’t sure how he felt about being treated like an old man. If there was one thing Jerry was not, it was decrepit.

I spoke much of the day yesterday with other friends and colleagues about our loss. Some of the most poignant comments began, “I wish I had told him…” On the one hand, such comments should serve as reminders to not leave important things unsaid. Even if we are young and healthy, there may be a city bus outside with our names written on it. With that being said, I think Jerry was aware of everything that was left unsaid – not because we become omniscient at death, though we might. I believe Jerry knew because he had a way of knowing what the people around him felt and experienced. That compassion of his that ran so deeply placed him in an equally deep communion with the people he encountered, their struggles, and their feelings.

For me, Jerry’s legacy will be that compassion and his patience. When I was (not much) younger, I suffered from a profound lack patience. It often amazed me how patient Jerry was. He had the gift of making people feel as if he always had time for them, even when I found myself in the corner muttering in frustration. Jerry understood that the greatest gift was time. I know in my life it is easy to feel as if there isn’t enough time, but I am learning that is a misperception rooted in our own sense of self importance. When I grow up, I want to be like Jerry. We all should.

Why “Working on Myself” Isn’t Enough

Meditation in all of its various forms is great. I am a practitioner myself and can attest it has brought wonderful change to my life. Mindfulness meditation has seen a surge in popularity in recent years, and I would recent stay at home orders in some communities have afforded a wonderful opportunity to start or build a practice. After all, you can only reorganize your closets so many times!

It’s great to “work on ourselves,” particularly since so many of us are over committed, work too many hours for too little pay and spend much of the time that is left shuttling kids and grandkids to various activities, sporting events, classes, and meetings with friends. Then there are our various classes, personal meetings and involvements. Whether we enjoy these things or not, sooner or later our bodies and minds need a break. This is where self care comes in and practices like meditation can be an immense benefit. We should take advantage of opportunities for personal growth. The truth is, however, that working on myself is not enough.

It’s wonderful to get massages, take Pilates, go to meditation, and work on ourselves, but if we never connect those practices to the outside world all they are is an education in narcissism. Americans love to look inward, but it can easily become an exercise in avoidance. Several years ago a clergyman I knew said, “all that matters is my meditation.” At that point, I knew we had lost him. In those six words he summed up the profoundly selfish life quite succinctly. The reason we do inner work is to make us better functioning members of a society. If we never engage that society, all our work is little more than an exercise in masturbation.

It’s wonderful to get massages, take Pilates, go to meditation, and work on ourselves, but if we never connect those practices to the outside world all they are is an education in narcissism.

Craig Bergland

If we are engaging in spiritual and wellness practices in their appropriate framework, the needs in our environment will become apparent. In fact, our practices will help us see those needs. Practice causes our compassion to grow, but compassion that doesn’t lead us to action is quite shallow, indeed. I fear that many Americans use Eastern spiritual practices as an reason to avoid life. That’s a corruption of the practice. Our time looking inward should always lead us to look outward!