That sounds like a truism, not the least bit profound, but for my Dad it expressed a powerfully emotional reality that we all must face, if we live long enough, as more and more of our friends predecease us.
All of my closest boyhood friends have died. All of my college roommates, my closest shipmates from my Navy days in World War II, all of my good friends from my baseball years, goodness knows how many wonderful friends from the various churches I have served, some close colleagues with whom I served on the faculty at Princeton Theological Seminary, and many good friends from recent years are no longer living.
|Jim Hester, 1925-2015|
Jim joined the Marines and I enlisted in the Navy the next month. We went our separate ways, but continued to see each other at Princeton reunions and on other occasions. In recent years we have been living in the same retirement community, where our almost daily greeting was not "Hello!" or "Good morning!" or "Good evening!" or just "Hi!" but "I love coffee, I love tea, I love the Java Jive and it loves me!"
If you clicked on the Jim Hester link above you know what an amazingly accomplished man he was and what a distinguished career he had. But I'll remember the young Princeton freshman with whom I used to wait tables, study and harmonize, as well as the wheel-chair bound but still sharp as a tack friend I've been seeing almost every day for the past few years. Jim's ashes will be buried in Princeton Cemetery, not far from where my wife Margie's are buried and where mine will be, when my time comes. I'll be conducting a graveside committal service for Jim's family a few weeks from now, when the weather is more favorable.
Sam Moffett. Sam had just died. Providentially, his niece Marilyn had arrived the night before, and was there to be with Eileen, along with Sam's wonderful Ghanaian care-giver Frank Ofori. Ever since then I have been helping in whatever ways I can.
We had been looking forward to celebrating Sam's 99th birthday in April, but in recent months his health had been declining. Yet his appetite had been fairly good and he seemed to be holding his own. At the end he simply slept away, as most of us would prefer to do, if we had our choice. He did not suffer; he just wore out. So though his death was not a shock, his passing is for all who knew and loved him, especially for Eileen, an immense loss.
Eileen and Sam have been more than friends to Margie and me. They have been like family. I could not begin to recount all the ways we have interconnected over the years, all the birthdays, the anniversaries, the holidays, the rites of passage we celebrated together, all the trips we took, all the dinner/movie nights, all the sports events, all the prayer times, all the family gatherings, and just the many meals and quiet evenings we have shared together.
I had been on the Princeton Seminary faculty for a year, when Sam was called to be the first occupant of the newly established Henry Winters Luce Chair of Ecumenics and Mission. He and Eileen had just arrived on campus in time for the opening faculty picnic, and Margie and I had been asked to be their host and hostess for the event, at which the new faculty and their spouses were being welcomed.
The four of us bonded instantly and soon became the best of friends. I could not have had a more supportive colleague than Sam. People who did not know us would have had a hard time believing that, however, for we soon became incorrigibly addicted to teasing each other ---in public! I never told Sam this, but I would deliberately set him up for a friendly barb or insult because he was always so pleased with himself when he put me down. I enjoyed the disapproving look he would feign before he spoke and the smug smile he would get on his face afterward. I would look offended and then start laughing and then Sam would laugh and the two of us would soon be laughing uncontrollably, to the amusement of our spouses and the amazement of whoever else was around. We hardly ever indulged in our verbal sparring when we were alone.
A few months ago I was visiting with Sam in the hospital, where he was recovering from a fall and not feeling up to snuff. Eileen was there at the time. We had had a very meaningful visit. As I was leaving, I said to Sam, "I have to go now. Can you think of anything nice to say to me, as we part?" Sam's facial expression immediately changed. He frowned and said, "That would be difficult!" That was followed by the usual smug smile, and we both started laughing. I walked out of the room knowing he was feeling better.
Sam retired from the Seminary a few years before I did. Eventually we both had tiny offices on the second floor of Speer Library, along with several other retired faculty members. I called it "Emeritus Row." We would often pop in on each other, when we needed a break, and we never ran out of things to talk about ---except politics. Margie and I soon learned we were at opposite ends of the political spectrum from our dear friends, and the four of us never talked politics. We had so many other things in common that we didn't need to!
Sam was a world renowned church historian, a distinguished author, a beloved teacher, and a revered missionary in South Korea, where the Moffett name is legendary. But I will remember him as my brother in Christ. I have never had a more loyal friend than Sam Moffett. I will miss him terribly, as I will my long-time Princeton friend and classmate, Jim Hester.
Farewell, old friends!