It’s easy to get lost in tribute messages, because you want to remember… You don’t want to ever forget good people, and certainly don’t want them to move away to a far-off place… But letting go is part of taking hold of life, including all the must-haves we don’t want… This past Monday, March 26, 2012, around 7:45 p.m. Pacific, our friend Jack Gilbert left us, something we definitely didn’t want…
So many beautiful tributes keep rolling in about him… I knew Jack as the leader of a wonderful book club… I also knew him as one of the instructors for the Act One writing program in L.A. — and considered him a friend I wish I’d known better… I think we sometimes are so focused on keeping our own lives going, that in the middle of our own daily challenges, we often lose sight of the people around us. We appreciate them, but I don’t think we always invest enough in their lives. But Jack did.
He was kind, intelligent, insightful, loved to laugh, loved God, and loved people; he was an encourager to his fellow wanderers on this big ol’ planet. As my friend Christina said, he was like a father figure in so many ways. I think she’s right. Although I never consciously thought of Jack as a dad, it makes perfect sense. His nurturing qualities fostered so many great relationships.
While scrolling through the messages, I learned much more about this friend of ours, including about his love of traveling, his adventurous spirit, and his overall passion for living. But one particular shared memory stands out for me… A former roommate of his, Johnny, said that once in a while, Jack would carefully lead their elderly apartment manager outside to look up at the stars through a telescope… Maybe it’s because I’m now my mom’s caregiver, but that picture of a younger person helping an older person star-gaze is so precious… I bet they had great conversations about life and God and the universe while looking for the Pleides or some shooting stars or even the North Star…
Inside that building is where we had our book-club meetings. Barbara Nicolosi had introduced me to his group — “Jack’s Great Book Salon of L.A.” — when I first moved to town, and it became one of the highlights of living in the Valley, even though I couldn’t always be a regular participant, even though I only lived five minutes away… Jack’s apartment was also right down the street from where the Brady Bunch front-of-the-house exteriors were shot; he loved to share his knowledge of where to go and what to see — and the tourist in me loved that. Warner Bros. was close by, and CBS was right around the corner.
The first month I joined, I’m pretty sure Bram Stoker’s Dracula was the novel up for discussion. And it’s been one of my favorites ever since. Jack knew good writing and good stories inside and out, and the goal was to read the classics with appreciation — and to have fun digging in and mining for gold. He had such a way of extracting the humanity from a novel, seeing the hearts and motives of the characters. He asked just the right questions to lead the group in great conversations and analysis. And the chosen novels, and sometimes stage plays, usually had film adaptations. We’d watch film clips, and would once in a while journey out to a restaurant or pub that fit the theme of the story. Christmastime included watching A Charlie Brown Christmas. It was tradition. I loved time-traveling through stories with this group!
Later, when I moved back to the East Coast to help my mom, Jack let me create a Facebook page for the book club. We use it to supplement our group’s email discussions for those of us who can’t be there in person. Once again, there were times when I couldn’t actively participate, but just a couple weeks ago, I posted that I’d be back soon, and had planned on joining everyone for Pride and Prejudice in April… But now … Jack won’t be there…
It’s all so bittersweet… You know your friend is alive and well in Heaven, and probably having the time of his life, but there’s a place that was his here, on Earth, and that space can’t be filled by anyone else in the same way; that person and his place is unique, just like each one of us… I think he would say that we all matter, and that if any one of us went missing, it wouldn’t be the same … but that for the time we’ve been given, we have to keep on living, really living, the best we can — and to see life as an adventure, and to remember everything that’s important, even looking up at the stars once in a while … that we need to think about those far-away places…
Another member of our book club, Sean Gaffney, said I could share what he wrote. It’s perfect:
With all this hoopla, don’t forget you postponed book club to this Thursday night. No more postponing, I have some things from Quixote that I have to ask you about – like how much we need people devoting their lives tilting against impossible odds to make the world a better place; what it must be like to give oneself over madly and completely in the service of others; how it must feel to know when you’re laid to your rest that the world is much better for this, that one man still strove with his last ounce of courage and reached the unreachable star. I figure you’ll have some significant insight to these questions.
Until then, my friend.
And that’s who our friend Jack was. And if he could, he’d be there this evening for Sean and the L.A. book club… Cortney and Susan and I, three of the club members from a distance, have already decided we’ll keep this book club going in Jack’s honor…
And you know what? I bet God really was going to answer the thousands of prayers going up for our friend in the way we had hoped… He heard us all even before a prayer formed on our lips, and His heart was moved… He saw Jack’s brother and 93-year-old father, and Janet and her family, and His heart was beyond moved… They say there are no tears of sadness in Heaven, but I don’t think that applies to Jesus… I think His heart is still moved to compassion for His children still on Earth, probably more than we realize…
Starting at 7 p.m. Pacific this past Monday, 45 minutes before Jack entered Heaven, his friends gathered to pray in the Act One offices. People had been praying since his hospitalization of course; my friend Sr. Marie-Paul and all the nuns in her order were praying; Jack was on countless prayer lists; my friend Leilani and I even prayed over the phone together over the weekend, linking coast to coast, praying that his illness and the pneumonia would be kicked out and replaced with perfect health, but this was another collective gathering on Monday night. And through the Internet, prayers went up around the world at that time too.
I remember turning TBN on to play in the background while I prayed — and, at one point, some man talked about going to Heaven and then returning to Earth to tell others about it. And I wondered, hoped it would be a good sign for us… Please don’t make that “Heaven talk” be a sign you’re taking him…
At another point while praying, I felt a burst of joy — that’s the best way I can describe it — and I wondered if that could be a good sign for us … but deep down, I was thinking it might be a good sign for Jack instead…
But I kept praying, intent on maybe “swaying” God with all the other prayers going up for healing, asking Him to change His mind like He did for Hezekiah, if He was going to take Jack, but ultimately praying for God’s will… But still… I kept praying with everyone else, only to find out right before 11 p.m. that as I was asking the Lord to keep him here, he was already there…
Part of me, I admit, had said, “C’mon, God… We all know you can do this… It’s so easy for you… And Jack’s such a wonderful person… You can take him Home later, can’t you? Please, God? I mean, I bet most of us have been claiming in your Name, and quoting all the Scriptures that deal with faith and healing… And surely our faith’s bigger than a mustard seed, and… Surely, all these prayers make a difference… Right? God? Father God? Jesus? Holy Spirit? Right? Please…”
But you know what? Knowing how big God’s heart is, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if maybe while Jack was in the hospital, and right before his journey on Earth was almost finished, Jesus was talking with him. And maybe their conversation went something like this:
“Jack, a lot of my kids are praying for you right now, you know…”
“And they’re going to be heartbroken tonight if…”
Just then, something distracted Jack, and he looked over Jesus’ shoulder — Heaven in the distance caught his eye…
“So…,” Jesus continued, “I was thinking that maybe…”
Jack smiled and laughed a little…“Are you kidding?!”
And so Jesus and Jack set off for Heaven together on yet another adventure…
Well, that might’ve been how it went. I’d like to think so anyway… Maybe he couldn’t resist running off to a new far-away place that looked amazing even from a distance … a place that, as my friend Susan suggested, might be full of libraries and new book clubs to start, where you could even invite the authors… A place you’d have to get to by flying up through the stars first…
If it happened that way, I don’t think we would’ve looked back either, if we were in his shoes. Not because we would want to leave the people we loved here, but because there was a big reunion party to go to, a banquet, and work to be done and new places to see and old friends and family to hug again… And more parties to plan … for us, for later… Everything Jack did was in service for others…
And talking about banquets makes me remember the first conversation I had with one of Jack’s colleagues, David Schall, the founder and director of Inter-Mission. As he looked around the Act One banquet hall, his thoughts seemed to be in a different place… At that moment, his eyes were full of memories of somewhere else… He told me that he had already seen everything that was in that banquet hall, including the details of the silverware and napkins, that God had given him a vision. He said God had told him that this banquet would be happening and that all He had promised would be fulfilled… A couple years later, God took David Home too, after he arrived for church one Sunday… I know David was one of the friends who greeted Jack up there, and by now they’re probably busily and happily working on new projects together. It’s never the end in God’s Kingdom…
There really are happy endings, but those of us who know Jesus have to remind each other once in a while of what He said… That those forever kind of happy endings that we crave are waiting for later… We’re pilgrims here, and this Earth is not our forever home… But one day, we’ll see with clearer eyes, and if we cry, it won’t be because we’re sad. One day, we’ll see Love Incarnate face to face, and we’ll see all our friends and family who have gone on ahead of us, like Jack…
And if Jack could read to us from a great piece of writing to comfort our hearts, besides Scripture he might choose this:
“Death is nothing at all
I have only slipped away into the next room
I am I and you are you
Whatever we were to each other
That we are still
Call me by my old familiar name
Speak to me in the easy way you always used
Put no difference into your tone
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow
Laugh as we always laughed
At the little jokes we always enjoyed together
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was
Let it be spoken without effect
Without the ghost of a shadow in it
Life means all that it ever meant
It is the same as it ever was
There is absolute unbroken continuity
What is death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind
Because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you for an interval
Somewhere very near
Just around the corner
All is well.
Nothing is past; nothing is lost
One brief moment and all will be as it was before
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!”
(This sermon, “The King of Terrors,” was spoken by Henry Scott-Holland, the Canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England, at St. Paul’s, on Whitsunday 1910, while the body of King Edward VII was lying in state at Westminster. Published in “Facts of the Faith,” 1919.)
P.S. — Jack always challenged the writers to enter NaNoWriMo and ScriptFrenzy. Last night I checked both sites. I hadn’t been to the one for NaNo in quite a while … and when I opened the “Writing Buddies” page, there was “WINNER!” right next to Jack’s picture. He had met his goal. Truly, he has indeed met his goal now… Also, on the ScriptFrenzy page, the title of the screenplay Jack was going to start in April had the word “Starlight” in it … and it was categorized as a “romance/romantic comedy”… I thought that was just perfect … and I bet he’s getting ready to start on it soon, way up in Heaven…
See you again, Jack… ’Til then, please save us all seats in your writers group and new book club… We’d love to hear your answers to Sean’s questions. And please, let’s revisit Pride and Prejudice and invite Jane Austen. And The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien. And Henry V and Shakespeare. And … well, the list is endless, isn’t it? : ) I think you’re having a really good time up there… We miss you, but we’ll see you again, dear friend, just around the corner…