My friend Jack went to sleep last Saturday night and never woke up.
He was 60 years old.
Yeah, don’t even try making any sense of it – there is none. Jack Kelly was a good and kind man and my heart aches that he is gone from this world.
Jack and I attended the same church – All Saints Episcopal – and he and his wife Lauren didn’t tell me for the longest time that they came to All Saints only after reading a newspaper column I wrote about the church. They were searching for a church and when they landed at All Saints, like me, they knew they were home.
I liked Lauren immediately. She jokes that she and my wife Joy are “twins” – they are both tall, slender and vivacious. Jack was harder to get to know and I think I initially mistook his quietness as shyness. I’m grateful we became good buddies.
He was an “old school” kind of guy – the type of man who is as comfortable in a blue blazer as he is a flannel shirt. He was a consummate gentleman, always helping the old ladies up for communion and even cheerfully escorting them to and from church if necessary.
Jack loved sports and I always looked forward to seeing him on Sunday to rehash or preview the big games of the week. Like me, he was a life-long Redskins fan and he loved the Baltimore Orioles.
Often during the Passing of the Peace we would embrace and our exchange would sound more like something from SportsCenter than the Book of Common Prayer.
Jack was a great historian, too, and he would often drop a pithy quote from some historical figure into a conversation. He could tell a good story and a slightly off-color joke with aplomb.
I knew him to be a gentle and thoughtful man. He would remember that I grew up in Virginia and make a reference to that from time to time. He was warm and genuine and the Saints are in mourning as I write this today.
My dear friend Tom, who never shares anything on Facebook, posted a beautifully haunting tribute to Jack from the poet Wendell Berry’s “Three Elegiac Poems”:
He goes free of the earth.
The sun of his last day sets
clear in the sweetness of his liberty.
The earth recovers from his dying,
the hallow of his life remaining
in all his death leaves.
Radiances know him. Grown lighter
than breath, he is set free
in our remembering. Grown brighter
than vision, he goes dark
into the life of the hill
that holds his peace.
He’s hidden among all that is,
and cannot be lost.
We are all unspeakably sad for Lauren and their sons and their grandchildren. But if we are to be completely honest, and Jack would appreciate that, we are also feeling the hard, cold reality of our own mortality.
In baseball, the term “sacrifice fly” refers to a batter hitting a ball with the intention of causing a teammate to score a run, while sacrificing his own ability to do so.
I like to think that my friend Jack found poetry in his beloved baseball and I know that the only solace that I’ve found since learning of his death is the notion that maybe, just maybe, because of him, we’ll all cherish our journey home a little bit more.