Here’s a recording of FOR HAROLD, a tetrameter piece of poetry I did for my dear friend Harold Lipford when I found about his passing. The text is below. Words can’t do it, but this will be my contribution. For those of you who don’t know, Harold presided over my marriage to Anjie almost 34 years ago, and has been a lifelong mentor, pastor, father, spiritual guide, and friend. Today, many will gather to celebrate his life at his memorial service, and I so wish I could be there. But I’ve got two shows here in Seattle. Perhaps appropriately, my body is not well as I begin the day, and while there is joy here for Harold, knowing of his anticipation of heading to his long anticipated home in Heaven, still, death is no friend to those left behind. At least not to me. But somehow, words have power to comfort, to heal, and to testify. If you’re here grieving over his passing, as I am, I hope these words express something of what we all feel. Like so many others, I’ll miss you, Harold.
I love you.
And of course, Jeannette, this is for you…
NOTE: The music is that of John Elliot, a song entitled “The World’s Last Night” from his fantastic album A BURDEN LIFTED. When I think of music to heal in times of distress and heartbreak, I think of this man’s music.
So different than on the stage.
They’re hot, like writers say in long books,
These grief tears for my good father.
No, not my father in body,
But my father in spirit.
Silver hair, nimbus-like, graced him,
His gentle movement through the world
Gracing those who found his orbit.
He listened so well, at least to me,
And wondered often of this and that,
His face holding curiosity,
As if all things were bewildering,
All instances of mystery,
Needing God’s nudge to make sense of it.
I lived in his house for a brief season,
A foolish boy of pride and damage,
And Harold eased his way into me,
Making fondness and adoration
Seem par for the course, so normal.
He loved, and wept, and told stories,
So many tales of his daughters,
Their journeys and his wonder at them.
He danced through what he didn’t know,
Living well with what was beyond him.
Acceptance is a thing I learned there,
Though it would be years before I knew.
I feel his arm around my neck.
He prayed that way, that arm draped ’round me,
Our heads close, Jeannette there, too,
So many times on departures,
That small circle of us, cherished,
Still standing in that living room,
The one on Harwell, and Anjie’s there,
And once, my son and daughter too.
How we laughed and wept and hung on.
“If I’d had a son,” he’d say,
“I would have wanted him to be like you.”
I’m sure he said that to all of us.
O, secret heart here hidden,
This heaving turmoil, unknown light,
Take up his mantel, and live more, and better,
Lifting up in mind that Noble,
The one who presided at my vows,
The vows that have shaped this good life.
Who is worthy of God’s kingdom?
Maybe Harold. Most surely, Harold.
May he find the path well-worn there,
And walk it, well-trained in loving.
Would that I’d find his hand there,
When comes my turn for the long home.
Meet me, then, Harold, and show me,
Show me that wonder that sparkles in you.
Till then, let mists never leave me,
Not the ones in which Harold hears me.
Give me breath and strength to listen on,
And perhaps yet, throw a pot or two.
Muddy hands, and good, good stories.
Yes, yes. Tears can slake thirst, after all.
Stand with me now, in this small circle,
Wide with sorrowed-spirits gathered,
Arms draped round necks that loved him.
Let’s pray Harold home, sing Amen,
And vow to meet at best sunrise,
Some century to come, and laugh,
As we jostle at Harold’s tellings,
Hearing stories of his kingdom walks,
Our forevers now so in common,
Holy, simple, in good company.
Go in grace and peace, Harold,
And look for us, your spirit children all.
Save a spot on some star for us,
For we long to follow, and find you.
In the name of our Jesus
Who you so reminded us of