Greg Fried died on Sunday morning. We’ll celebrate his life next Saturday at 3 p.m.
Greg was a quiet, unassuming man. He was very generous, contributing to the needs of the church in many ways over the years. He and Edith paid for the sign in the front of the church, in memory of their dear, dear friend, Jane Bickford. Every time I drive into the church I think of the Fried’s gift, as well as Jane.
I had a special relationship with Greg. During my first year in Westport I decided to buy a house and the numbers weren’t working — my income wasn’t what the bank’s charts said it should be. Greg heard. He called from Key West where he and Edith winter and told me he would send whatever I needed.
We managed to get the financing without relying on Greg’s help, but the gesture was made and it still sits in my soul like a sparkling little gem. And that’s the only safety deposit box I need. Greg and Edith invited me to live in the extra apartment when I needed a place when my marriage was coming apart.
Greg suffered from clinical depression — the silent illness that presses down on the spirit. But he always managed to muster courage and strength, to have a pleasant word. He was appreciative. He had a special spirit that I’ll always cherish.
Ed Bryce, another special friend, died on Sunday night. Ed and Greg were good friends for many years. Ed and Dorothy were part of the gang that gathered at the Fried’s for parties over the years. Strangely, Carl Erca was often part of that bunch, too. The three died within a month of one another.
Ed’s service will be on Saturday at 11 a.m. It’s tight scheduling, but in some ways it’s appropriate that their services are on the same day.
Ed served on the Search Committee that presented me as their candidate for ministry in 1984. During the first of what would be several interviews, and a drawn-out process, we took a coffee break in the Crawford’s kitchen and Ed said, “As far as I’m concerned the search is over!” I knew then that he and I would be good friends, and indeed we were.
Ed was an accomplished actor and, in response to my request, he coached me on my pulpit delivery. He was very complimentary and encouraging about my poetry, often saying, “I’ve never heard poetry delivered the way you do it — you bring it alive!” My only regret is that I didn’t do the poetry evening that he and I had planned last year. I’ll do it, someday, in his memory and honor.
I visited with both Greg and Ed on Saturday afternoon, and it was clear that they were getting closer and closer to finishing the long race. Using the words of Chief Yellow Lark, I prayed with Ed and Greg, and the last line of the prayer seemed especially poignant:
O Great Spirit whose voice I hear in the winds, and whose breath gives life to all the world, hear me. I come before you one of your many children, I am small and weak, I need your strength and wisdom. Let me walk in beauty and maket my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset. Make my hands respect the things you have made, and my ears sharp to hear your voice. Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people, the lesson you have hidden in every leaf and rock. I seek strength not to be greater than my brother but to fight my greatest enemy, myself. Make me ever ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes so that when life fades as a fading sunset my spirit may come to you without shame.
When we say ‘they are at peace,’ we mean, of course, that the struggle is ended. Each of them fought the good fight. Now we will work on bringing a sense of peace to ourselves as we mourn their passing. It will help to do so by celebrating their lives. I hope you won’t be forced to make a decision to attend one or the other service — that you’ll be able to attend the services honoring both Greg and Ed on Saturday. I share Edith and Dorothy’s appreciation for your being here.
The ancient story says that the three wise men, or Magi, arrived at the manger twelve days after the birth of Jesus. The festival of the Epiphany, on January 6, celebrates that occasion. An epiphany is an intuitive insight or realization of some truth which wasn’t clear, before. The meaning in this poem is clear, to me: when we realize that there is a spark of Divinity in each and every person born in this world, then we understand the deepest religious truth.
As long as we think that some heroic savior is going to come along and remove all our struggles and suffering, we’re barking up the wrong tree. It ain’t gonna happen!
It takes ‘wise ones’ to see this, but it’s a wisdom available to each of us. Theologians call it revelation. It’s not magical, it’s the basic understanding that has to come to each of us as we filter our experiences through the deeper part of our selves — the soul, if you will.
I mention this because it is the holiday season — Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights; and Christmas with its shining star that lights the dark solstice sky; Divali, the Hindu festival of lights; and the so-called Pagan festivals that got us to bring a living tree into our home and decorate it with lights.
Greg Fried and Ed Bryce were lights that decorated our days. Each was a unique, special Spirit who made the world a better place. They got the message — they nurtured that spirit!
T. S. Eliot concludes his poem, Journey of the Magi, with a question:
Were we led all that way for Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly, we had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death, but had thought they were different. This birth was hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death. We returned to our places, these Kingdom, but no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation with an alien people clutching their god…
You and I are still on that journey — the journey of the Magi, seeking wisdom, insight, and understanding. May we discover new meanings in the old holidays as we travel together in the days and years ahead. A blessing on your house. Mazel tov!