Al and Linda
Al and Linda
Al Martin died two days ago. The Rev. Albert Martin, beloved former pastor of Christ Evangelical Lutheran church in Floral Park for many years, a preacher who loved to laugh and swap funny stories, a collector of frog artifacts, chaplain to the local fire department, father of two boys now grown.
But I got to know him, officiate at his wedding, and celebrate his retirement because of Linda. Linda is his wife. She was a very little girl in my church in Brooklyn when I first visited her home as she recuperated from an appendectomy. I can still see her in the apartment on Seventh Avenue across from Sunset Park clutching a stuffed animal. During the nearly eighteen years I was her pastor, I watched her grow into a beautiful, intelligent, and capable woman. For a while she and a friend, another girl as close to me as Linda, supervised the church's youth program.
I left my beloved Brooklyn in 1972 for parts east. Not long after, Linda married Al in St. John's Lutheran church situated alongside Prospect Parkway. I was privileged to do the honors. Linda had begun a career as a schoolteacher and met the young Lutheran padre at a church social for young adults. Al had a pastorate in Hollis, Queens. He and Linda moved to Floral Park and Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church. They raised two boys as Al earned a reputation as an attentive pastor, a raconteur, and positive influence in local community affairs.
Toward the end of his pastorate Al and Linda found themselves in a very shadowed valley. Together. Al had Alzheimer's. As his mental capacities diminished Linda started writing and then also delivering sermons. I have written about this extraordinary fulfillment of "in sickness and in health" on this website at Linda and Al Martin's Retirement.
Easter is a little more than a week away. This year I'll sing a little louder and with a little more focus the Palestrina carol for the day, "The strife is o'er, the battle done; the victory of life is won." Thinking of Al and Linda... Linda especially for she's the one whose arduous vocation was to keep vigil over the man, once vibrant and charming, as he descended into the bathos of that humiliating disease. "They also serve, who only stand and wait." You and I had better believe it!
But what I mostly take away from this long journey of my friends in the shadowed valley is the beauty and the exaltation of the human spirit which Al and Linda achieved. Together. All that kindness and patience. All that courage in the face of wearying frustration. All those unanswered prayers. The Book of Genesis pictures our first parents after their fall from grace leaving the garden to go East of Eden, the territory we now inhabit, filled as it is with so many sorrows, but going there hand in hand. There is nothing (at least, nothing that I can think of) in this life that cannot be faced and overcome when we go at it together.
Barbara and I celebrate our sixtieth wedding anniversary this June. At her 80th birthday last March I explained to the celebrants at her party just what it is that the pretty little PK had given me. In a word, life.
Of course, we are and I am not alone in this discovery of God's grace and mercy unfailingly provided those who go at life together year in and out. I'll name a few of you, those who, like Al and Linda, were "more than conquerors" going together through the valley of shadows, a jurisdiction which Barbara and I have been largely spared. And if I don't include you and you think I should, Email me and I'll amend my list, probably responding to you with, "Of course; please forgive the omission." Here's my list of angels and heroes: Austin and Bi, Granthia and Fred, Dick and Nancy, Steve and Joanne, Martha and Bob, John Paul and Marion, Barbara and Hugh, Don and Marianne, Henry and Dorothy, plus those of you who are going to tell me you should be on the list of those of us East of Eden who have held hands and encouraged each other to get through more hells than seems fair two people should face.
I look on and am inspired. Such as you make the human race look good, very good indeed. And God says, "Amen."