In Memoriam: Gregory Ike
Thursday, October 11th, Barbara and I drove in the late afternoon to Lynbrook NY and the Perry Funeral Home to offer a message and a prayer for family and friends of Greg Ike. Greg, 47 years old, died following a long illness, with several hospitalizations and consequent interruptions in his work as a custodian at Buck School in Valley Stream. Herewith is the message and the prayer, interspersed with three photos, from that evening:
Go with me to an earlier time, a younger year. When Greg was a junior high and I had a lot more hair. At Camp Epworth. On one of those weekends we called retreats, when the campers stayed up most of the night and told each other what they thought were hilarious jokes, and all I, in the same bunk dormitory, could think about was how tired I would be tomorrow. Some of you here tonight can remember. Greg was never the instigator of improprieties, but he was a happy audience to the shenanigans of his contemporaries.
I remember Greg then, and in his confirmation lessons, as a quiet, reserved, and very stolid soul. For whatever reason I always checked out his shoes. His feet were not long but they were massive. Like the rest of him.
That was thirty-four years ago. Mom kept me informed on his progress through this mortal life, the ups and downs which all of us celebrate and suffer. Once at Brooklyn Avenue School I knocked on the custodial office door and a surprised voice, Greg’s, greeted me, “Pastor Howard?”
So let’s talk about surprises, happy ones. My junior highs have provided me with plenty as I have followed their careers. Like the girl whom all the boys fancied, the woman who became the Chief Financial Officer of a storied Wall Street institution. Like the boy who stuffed a toad into his suitcase after a weekend trip, the same fellow who know teaches – right! – biology in a university in Ohio.
But no one surprised me more than Greg. The stolid soul, quiet and unassuming, who, it turns out, is an artist. A poet of line and light. A connoisseur of colors. In him resided an aspiring spirit, toward beauty. His university professors, before whom he opened up his talent, praised and encouraged him. He basked for a season in their approval.
Greg confirmed for me the rule never to sell anyone short. That what lies deep in their hearts, the longings, their aspirations, are inviolable mysteries waiting to find expression in the world. One of my persistent images for Jesus is just that, the One who coaxes us to reach for the light, to love better and deeper than we thought possible, to believe that in God’s eyes each of us, including ourselves, is an immortal diamond. I cannot say that I convinced Greg of that belief. But I suspect he found it much closer to home, in his own home, with Marilyn and Brud, who welcomed him as a child of their own, who held him at his beginning and his ending in the embrace of their love and compassion.
I’ve been gone from these parts for more than ten years. The only person who now calls me “Rev.”, if not Pastor, is my auto mechanic. In the churches where I often go for worship congregants pay me little mind. What I am learning big time is the importance, the singular importance, of family, a loving family. To take care of each other through the rough spots. To celebrate each other when things go right. No wonder Jesus begins his prayer, “Our Father…”. And just why one of his most enduring images of the eternal kingdom is the Father’s house with many rooms.
For Greg a house not unlike one on East Prospect Street in Woodmere.
God of our years, who calls us by name to the privilege of this mortal life, we thank you this night for one lately among us, too soon gone to his eternal rest, our Greg, son, brother, friend, co-worker. You provided him with a loving family. You gave him a persevering temperament and a capacity for hard work. You put within him a spirit that perceived and created beauty. We loved him. He loved us. Together we tasted the sweetness of this life, tinged in the course of things, with some of its bitterness. Yet still glad for the privilege of being here. Welcome Greg, we pray, into your more stately mansions. Set him a place at your great banquet feast. Hold him in your everlasting arms. With the pains and struggles of life now past, give him to know your peace that passes all understanding, in the name of him who is the Prince of that peace, the one who beckons us also to come, the one who give us rest, world without end, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.