I am not good at remembering birthdays, but I was determined to remember Henry's.
Henry had given me a book on my last birthday, and I wanted to give him a book on his birthday, too. When we would meet for tea & conversation at Mississippi Grounds, we talked about what we'd read. If I described a book that particularly interested him, he would hand me a napkin and a pen and say, "Darian, write it down for me." He would leave with a few scribbles stained in earl grey, but I would leave with a better idea of potential gifts for him.
My determination paid off. I successfully remembered that June 17 was Henry's birthday, but I did not buy him a book. Between my birthday in 2014 and his in 2015, Henry Outlaw passed away. Ecclesiastes 7:1 may say that "the day of one's death [is] better than the birthday," but that first birthday of the absent one can feel like the day of death all over again.
When I woke up this morning, my heart was sad for Henry's family. I missed him, too.
Yet I did not mourn.
I had a new determination.
Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote in one of his most beloved poems, "The world is charged with the grandeur of God." The eternally curious Henry loved that mysterious world of his Creator. He often said, "Never lose your sense of wonder." As I readied the dog for our morning walk, I decided that June 17 would no longer be the Day I Didn't Get To Give Henry a Gift.
It would now be The Day To Celebrate Gifts From Henry.
When the dog would stop to sniff a blade of grass, I thought of Henry the scientist and adventurer. He studied and explored even these tiniest pieces of creation. I thanked God for the gift of Henry's intellect.
When I walked into Mississippi Grounds to order a cup of coffee, I scanned the tables for a particular chair. The staff had a small plaque placed on one chair in memory of him. I always love to see who, if anyone, sits in it. I thought of how Henry would have enjoyed talking with newcomers to Cleveland and Delta State University who sat in that chair. I thanked God for the gift of Henry's commitment to his community.
When I arrived in the office and began working for the day, I got busy and started to forget about Henry. I listened to music, checked emails, edited documents, visited a church member, and went to Rotary Club. The determination to see wonder in every detail of the day faded with activity.
Until I sneezed.
I reached for a tissue on my office desk.
I glanced at two words on the box: Extra Soft.
The wonder returned.
Two years ago, I wrote a blog post entitled, "When The Pastor Hides and Cries," about the difficult Sunday that I had to preach after a break-up. In the post, I lamented the fact that churches buy cheap tissue, leading to red noses and scratchy eyes. A few days after I published the piece, Henry came to see me. He handed me a box with an orange bow on it.
It was a box of extra soft facial tissue.
St. Paul began many of his letters with the greeting, "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you." When we remember those we love but see no more on this earth, what better way to celebrate than to thank God for their gifts? When we remember one another's gifts to us, we also remember the Source of all good gifts. When we start to forget, God can easily wake us up to His wonder through something as simple as a sneeze.
I thank my God upon every remembrance of Henry. I thank my God for the gift of His-- and Henry's -- love.
all good things to each of you,
* To learn more about Henry, read Henry's Homily.