The week began as ordinary as any other; last minute preparations for lessons that I was to teach in the coming days, but mostly savoring the last few minutes of weekend bliss. Monday came and went without much fanfare and the only drama in my otherwise quiet life was the coming cold snap. Forecasters were predicting that the weather would reach sub-freezing highs by Friday due to - what Holly smartly quoted to me was - an “arctic wind.”
Tuesday’s bitter cold wind brought not only a typical January cold front, but news of another kind of bitter cold. I do not think I could ever have bundled up enough to protect myself from the biting sting of the words that rattled through the cell phone receiver. “Jeff, I’ve got sad news. It’s about Dr. Goodman. He died.” No eloquence, no polished phrases; just choked words, bitter cold and a biting sting that still cuts me to the bone.
The following days were a whirlwind and a blur. Phone calls were made to old friends separated by miles and years. How did it get to be seven years since I last saw or talked to you? I’m sorry I’ve been a bad friend. Life has a way of doing that to us, you know? Plans were made, work schedules adjusted and carpools arranged. Tomorrow we would be back together. The miles and years between us would shrink, if for just a moment.
Familiar roads quickly became unfamiliar, yet somehow in the midst of the unfamiliarity I found something that looked a lot like home. I found comfort in your red eyes and tear stained cheeks and there was warmth in your embrace to shield me from the cold. Every Baptist church seems to look the same, but there was a comfortable familiarity in that too.
I was terrified the first time I met Dr. Goodman. I was in my third semester PBA and had the audacity to take a senior level Hermeneutics class. Perhaps it was hubris, but I thought I could handle that class as easily as I had other cupcake religion classes – Principles of Biblical Faith – after all, I was going to be a Biblical Studies major. This stuff was in my blood. I made it through about as gracefully as Icarus’ fall. The flimsy constructions of my theology were about as sturdy as Icarus’ wings; if I was satisfied with mediocrity, then they would do. However, if I wanted more out of my faith it became rapidly apparent that I would need to find a new way to fly. Yet, in spite of what I thought was a crash-and-burn catastrophe, Dr. Goodman stopped to tell me and a fellow underclassmen that our work together was top shelf.
He had a way of doing that, you know? Offering a word of encouragement when you thought you were about to explode in a ball of flames that made you feel as if this terrible mess of sorting out your faith was the most amazing thing that you could be doing at the moment and that you were doing a great job of it. He also had a way of setting those hastily construed arguments and weak hyperbolic or superlatives ablaze like waxed wings too, but I’m not so sure that was ever a bad thing. It’s frightening to be sure, and sometimes it hurt like hell. In the end, I’m glad that Dr. Goodman never accepted mediocrity from me, even if I was willing to settle for something less.
In the days, the weeks and months from now, I know that I will slowly move back into my old familiar patterns. Roads that were once foreign have a way of leading back to those that are familiar. The biting cold winds will eventually subside, even though tonight it only feels like they are getting colder. The fog that I have been living in for the past few days will slowly lift and I will be able to see clearly through eyes that are no longer swollen from a flood of tears. Winter will give way to spring and rebirth. Time has a way of speeding back up after it has ground to a stop. Somehow, we will make it and we will be ok. It is frightening to be sure and sometimes it hurts like hell, but somehow we will make it. Amidst all of that, I will remember my teacher, my shepherd through so many dark nights, and my friend, Danny Goodman.
Grace & Peace,
- Jeff Mann