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by Larry James

    I delivered the eulogy at a dear friend’s memorial service two months ago. People packed the small, upstairs, inner city sanctuary. Folding chairs line up wall-to-wall, front-to-back. The audience provided a rich study in diversity. Black, brown, white, young, old, poor, well off... the crowd reminded me of a cross section slice of the city my late friend loved so much.

    His name was Ed. He spent most of his life living hard, chasing women, running cons and doing and dealing drugs. He knew the inside of prison. He knew racism. He knew the pain of broken relationships, disappointed children and violence. He knew addiction most intimately. Ed could “do” hair! He enjoyed the reputation of an accomplished stylist. He died of brain cancer.

    Most people would dismiss Ed as a lost life—a person racked by needs and empty of positive capacity. Unknown, powerless and broken, most would judge him as a failure with nothing much to offer anyone.

He made a huge difference in his world.
    Nothing could be further from the truth. When I first met Ed about four years ago, he volunteered in the inner city center I managed. Ed stepped up as one of our very first community leaders. He helped transform our outreach center from place of charity into an outpost of community and hope. Most days Ed spent his time walking back and forth between our building and Narcotics Anonymous Central, then located just down the block. He literally dragged volunteer after volunteer into our community center, most recovering addicts who needed to contribute. These friends filled the seats of the sanctuary the day of his memorial service. But, Ed touched “rich cats” too. Addicts from University Park, Plano and Richardson counted him as their friend and mentor in recovery. Ed connected the mental health/recovery community to our beleaguered neighborhood. Ed perfected the fine art of networking, but with him the process always focused on lifting people out of the pit.

    Person by person, well over 20 of them, stepped to the podium to share memories and gratitude concerning Ed’s influence in their lives. One man I will never forget. Tall, well-dressed, articulate and engaged at the heart level, this gentleman told of the day he stood at the intersection of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X Boulevards trying to decide which way to go with his life. Just out of prison with no money, no job and little hope, he told the funeral audience that “Eddie drove up with a white guy in a Cadillac and told me to get in. He said he would take me to a place of life not death.” As he spoke, tears welled up in my eyes and a lump rose in my throat. I had been the “white guy”. The Cadillac was my father’s, borrowed when my car broke down. Now here he stood—doing well, employed, full of purpose and hope. What a reunion we enjoyed after the service!

    Yes, Ed was largely “unknown”. For sure Ed’s life had been tough and not all of his decisions had served him or his family very well. Ed eagerly, and with little reserve, admitted his failures. He found himself and his God before his journey ended. And, he made a huge difference in his world. He taught me many lessons. The one I remember today is simple: everyone has something to offer for the good of the community. No one should be written off before his or her script ends. Everyone deserves to be taken seriously. No one can claim perfection. Everyone matters. To give up on a person is to take a tragic, very wrong turn.

    Thanks, Ed. Your life mattered to me and to so many others.


HEARTLIGHT(R) Magazine is a ministry of loving Christians and the Westover Hills church of Christ.
Edited by Phil Ware and Paul Lee.
Copyright © 1996-97, Heartlight, Inc., 8332 Mesa Drive, Austin, TX 78759.
Article copyright (c) 1998, Larry James. Used by permission.
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