I want to tell you about one of the more extraordinary conversations I have ever been a part of. It was a conversation that demonstrated a relationship with meaning, purpose, and depth. It was a conversation that revealed a presence greater than the three people involved. And isn’t that the kind of relationships we want in our lives?
Whether it’s with God, ourselves, another person, or the world we want relationships that are really real, meaningful, and purposeful. We want the kind of relationships that carry us beyond ourselves and beyond this life. I will not tell you that Richard and Bobbie Jean had that kind of relationship. I will, however, tell you that they continue to have that kind of relationship. I saw it and heard it for myself. That’s the gift they gave me and that’s the gift I want to share with you today.
A little less than a week before Richard died I was with him and Bobbie Jean at their home. We had just finished sharing Holy Communion. Bobbie Jean and I were seated on either side of Richard’s bed. We sat in silence holding his hands. “Is there anything you want to tell Fr. Mike or me?” she asked him. He shook his head no. I don’t think it’s because he had nothing to say, but that what he had to say was unsayable. So we sat in silence, trusting the silent presence of God to be our fourth partner in the conversation.
After a while Richard looked at Bobbie Jean and said, “I love you more than words can say.” Then he turned to me and said, “Bobbie and I are linked.” A few minutes later he said to me, “I’m cutting Bobbie loose. I’m coasting to a new life.”
I’ve thought a lot about that conversation because I think Richard was saying more than the words he spoke. This was not simply an end of life conversation. This was a way of life conversation. And I really got clarity about that when Bobbie Jean told me the scriptures she had chosen for today. There was one particular line that jumped out at me. It comes from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians:
“So we do not lose heart. …
For what can be seen is temporary,
but what cannot be seen is eternal”
(2 Corinthians 4:16, 18).
That’s what Richard was saying to us. Our conversation that day revealed Richard’s double vision and the quality and depth of his and Bobbie Jean’s relationship. With his physical eyes he saw the temporality of this life and the cutting loose that was taking place. With the eye of his heart he saw the link of love and life that is eternal. And that link is always more than words can say.
Richard knew a “secret, a very simple secret.” He knew and trusted that “it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince, chapter xxi)
That is the secret that sustains us through our losses and gives hope on this day. It is the secret that makes life beautiful, relationships meaningful, and conversations extraordinary. It is the secret that lifts us up to see further and cleanses our eyes to see more clearly. It is the secret all our sacred scriptures try to teach us. It is a secret open to everyone and hidden from no one, but only those with eyes to see will understand it.
To see the essential with the eye of the heart is to begin to see that “life is eternal; and love is immortal; and death is only a horizon; and a horizon is nothing but the limit of our sight” (Bernardin, Burial Services, p. 101). When that becomes our way of seeing life is more full, more vibrant, more whole and complete. We are free to give ourselves away and to love with all that we are and all that we have.
Bobbie Jean, in that conversation Richard was entrusting you with his secret. I know this wasn’t the first time he had done that. He often quoted to you those lines from The Little Prince. But this time he was also giving you a glimpse of what he saw beyond the horizon. He was proclaiming the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Richard.
I know this secret does not undo what has happened, magically fix anything, or take away your loss and pain. But I cannot help but believe that you have eyes to see: eyes to see beyond this day, beyond the grave, beyond the tears. This way of seeing is not easy but it is the way forward, the way of hope, and the way of Christ.
That’s true not just for Bobbie Jean but for every one of us here today. Days such as this, days of loss and sorrow, remind us that we are always learning to see rightly, learning to see what is essential, learning to see with the eye of the heart. Sometimes we must take a second, third, or fourth look to refocus our vision. We must stick close together and remind each other that there is more to be seen than what we look at.
To look at the temporality of this life and see the eternal – in those we love, in ourselves, in this moment and every moment – that is holy work, faithful work, and it is what allows us “even at the grave to make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 499).