There is Kym, Gary's best friend, the church handyman, blind in one eye, with a pronounced limp, who is undergoing radiation treatment himself at the moment. In every way these two men are physical opposites: Gary is short, Kym is tall; Gary is blond and pale, Kym is dark-skinned and bald; Gary has a puckish energy; Kym has a laid back mien that says he's got you covered, and he does. They have built many things together at the church, painted offices, cleaned out undercrofts. When they met, they bonded instantly.
There is Jim, a lawyer who works with the mentally ill, with his full white beard and kind blue eyes, the unlikely radical. Jim is the pun master; they come to him unbidden, and he can't resist them, so that some of the other vestry members put a limit on him of three puns per meeting. His eyes dance and he whispers the rest to my husband anyway. My husband always did love a good pun. Jim manages the church's discretionary fund and many weeks, he chooses not to dip into it, giving instead to the people whose lights have been turned off, whose children need school supplies, out of his own pocket. My husband admonishes him that there is a fund for that. Jim only smiles.
There is Lysander, whose passion is homeless outreach, who convinced the rest of the vestry to let undocumented men who fall through the social services cracks, sleep in the undercroft come evening. She is one of the people who sleeps in the hall with them, even though some other people were afraid of them at first. Lysander calls these men "our guests," and now they help out around the church in any way they can, sweeping fallen leaves in the garden, helping to set up for events, mopping up the undercroft when a hard rain comes and it gets flooded. Lysander has come a few times to see Gary. Last night she sat with him till near midnight so that my cousin could go home and shower. My cousin felt guilty that she was taking so long to get back to the hospital and she called to release Lysander. Lysander said mildly, "Don't worry, I'm fine. Gary and I are having a conversation."
There is Gary's buddy Shirelle, raised as a Jehovah's Witness, who was taught that God didn't want gay people to marry, but who has challenged herself to reexamine her beliefs, given the many gay people she has come to know and love through the church. I admire that she had the courage to express herself as the church moved toward hiring a gay minister. She pointed to certain scriptures. Jim gently gave her other scriptures to read, and talked to her at length, encouraging her to look inside herself for what felt most loving and right. She, too, came and sat with Gary.
There is my husband, of course, who everyone thinks of as Gary's cousin. When Gary's family connection first became known at the church, he and my husband used to stand side by side, my big tall brown man next to Gary's shorter, slighter blond self, and they'd say wryly, "Of course we're cousins. What? Don't you see the resemblance?"
I could go on. So many others continue to come and share the sitting with my cousins. I have known that this church is a very special place, with all its big personalities and its thicket of daily challenges and its cadre of people faithfully tackling the endless array of social issues and personal needs, one moment at a time. But I told my husband this morning that while I had always known this about the people who make up the soul cluster of that church, I had never seen it in action before. I am not much of a church goer. I had too much church in my childhood, and I was bored to tears in those services (and afterward the church ladies always, always told me how fat I was). But this gang, who my cousin refers to as Gary's church family—I am in awe.
My cousin who stayed over last night, the older of the sisters, shared over breakfast this morning that she has been asking herself why Gary? Why should such a thing happen to one who was still so young and strong? And then she said it came to her that as hard as it was to watch her brother in law sinking beneath the waves, Gary was teaching us something with every breath. He was allowing us all the grace of being there.