As I watched the funeral service of another friend and colleague from a distance, separated by COVID—19 and all of the other intrusions that life can bring, I began to think about what this really meant. A flood of thoughts came to my mind. Having just celebrated another birthday a few days ago, matters of life and death become even more real and sobering.
As a pastor because you deal with death so often there seems to be the assumption that a teflon coat comes with the calling. But these days ones own mortality has made the teflon more adhesive. I’m beginning to come to an age where more of my family and friends are beneath the earth than above it.
As I listened to my friend and colleague Freddie Russell mention his first meeting with Russell Seay at Oakwood in 1976, I remembered that we all began that year as Freshmen in Cunningham Hall. My mind thought about all of the guys who we began with that year and where they all might be today, beginning with my first roommate? I will not bore you with a list of names but my mind began to wonder?
And then I thought specifically about Russell. I cannot say we were close, but we were friends. We knew each other and for me my respect for him was genuine and sincere. In ministry after a few decades, you begin to learn who people really are. The crucible of challenge and crises reveal the truth about all of us. And from my observation Russell was one who had strong convictions and was unafraid to stand for them even if they placed him in an uncomfortable position. This is a rare quality in life especially for those with personal ambitions or desires to ascend professionally in any way shape or form. To be uncompromising is a rare quality to have and few possess it. I found Russell to be one of those persons. This was something that I valued and respected.
I also appreciated his unique insights and perspectives. Whenever we had conversations about any subject I could count on Russell to share a perspective that was beyond the ordinary or conventional. He would share a point of view that made you say, “I never would have thought of that.” He was the kind of person the wise man was referring to when he wrote, “In a multitude of counselors there is wisdom.” I, like many others, will sorely miss his counsel.
And so that brings me to my final thoughts. What I regret most with Russell’s passing is the unfinished conversations. The ones we were supposed to have. I know I’m not alone in that category and am certain that many of those closer to him feel this even more acutely that I do. But the question is, how do you process that emptiness? How do you deal with that regret? A regret that I have come to face more often that I would like to admit with the passage of time.
After much deep contemplation something came to mind. There will come a time when I can complete the conversations; in a completely different setting, uninterrupted and with the both of us having the full capacity of our faculties. This is really not an unfinished conversation, but an interrupted conversation. It’s like when you’re talking to someone on the cell phone and their signal dies while they’re passing through an area where the call drops. When they pass through that weak area and get to a place where the signal is strong, they call you back and you continue the conversation. Right now we’re passing through an area where the signal is weak. The call between Russell and me has dropped. But when He is resurrected by Christ to a place where our signal is strong, we’ll pick up where we left off and complete the conversation.