Ray

Right before starting my freshman year of college, a close family friend passed away from lung cancer. The night I found out, I did not sleep at all. I went over 80 hours without sleep that week. I was diagnosed as bipolar shortly thereafter.

Ray was like a grandfather to me and my siblings. We met him at our church, and he and my dad were close friends. Ray had an infinite amount of wisdom, and he was an amazing mentor to several ministers at our church.

I didn’t really get to know him until two or three years before his death. I’m not sure how long my dad had been friends with him.

Ray was a minister, but he was divorced, and often ministers’ careers are pretty much over after a divorce. I think he might’ve been a preacher, but I am not positive. He went into real estate after his divorce and was very successful.

He never had children of his own, and he was exceedingly generous to his surrogate family members.

Ray’s voice was deep and soothing. Think Mufasa (James Earl Jones). It was fun listening to him speak. He was also incredibly funny and witty.

My family went out to eat with him after church one day, and he said, “Bull shit,” about something that frustrated him. My brother and I were probably 16 and 14. Old enough to know it was a curse word, but young enough we were shocked when an adult said it. (Our parents never curse, and it drives my mom crazy when I do it).

Ray didn’t even apologize because he meant exactly what he said.

Ray was a charmer, and he always had waitresses in stitches when we went out to eat.

Our church honors high school seniors towards the end of the school year. Every senior gets a laundry basket with a bunch of gifts, and the service is a kind of commencement for seniors.

Part of the service involved seniors being presented with bibles from a person of their choosing. Someone who played a significant role in one’s spiritual journey. I was going to play it safe and choose my parents. I was a bit of a loner and I didn’t really have many close friends during that time.

My parents encouraged me to ask Ray to be the one to present my bible, though. He was more than willing to do the honor.

The church also had a lunch for all the seniors and their families and friends. Ray came to that as well. There was an opportunity for families and friends to bless their seniors, and Ray spoke a blessing over me. Unfortunately, I do not remember anything he said. I was more than a little emotionally distraught and distracted at the end of my senior year.

I was consumed by shame from something that happened earlier that spring, and I couldn’t focus on anything other than my immediate needs. Though, I tended to ignore even those.

That was in May of 2011, and I’m pretty sure Ray knew his cancer was terminal by that time. He had been diagnosed a while before. I think he almost beat it, but it came back with a vengeance. It was only a matter of time.

I don’t remember if I knew him at all before he was diagnosed with cancer.

I do remember leaving my seat a couple of times during church and sitting by him. Once, he was all alone in the row in front of where I was sitting. Another time, I had to walk across the auditorium—right in front of the stage—to sit by him. In both instances, I felt lead to keep him company during church.

Ray often sat alone. I think he was a social pariah because of his divorce and prolonged single status. People weren’t ugly to him, but I don’t know if many people went out of their way to make him feel welcome and like he belonged.

He frequently spoke during communion, and he was very outspoken. He always challenged the church; he was prophetic. He didn’t talk about things people wanted to hear. He wanted the church to improve and grow.

One morning during communion, he made the bold statement that he hoped women would someday be more involved in worship on Sundays. I go to a church of Christ, and until recently, women could not pray, read scripture, or give communion thoughts during worship.

I’m pretty sure he offended a lot of people at our church, and he did not do communion for a long time. But his wish came true, and our church is better for the change. I’m sad he wasn’t alive to see his dream fulfilled. I have little doubt he was one of the main catalysts for the change.

It’s been eight years since he died, and the grief hurts less, but I still miss him like crazy. He was such an incredible man of God. I’ve spoken in church a few times, and I think he would have enjoyed listening to me.

I’m sad that I didn’t know him longer or better.

Maybe one day I’ll get to see him again.

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