Saturday, January 23, 2010

Farewell to a friend

I haven't written for a couple of weeks. I decided that part of being off a regular schedule was to really be off a regular schedule and not force myself to sit down and write when I was otherwise engaged. I have been busy, traveling to see friends, reading, cooking, cleaning out the basement. And saying goodbye to a friend.

It was in some ways an unlikely friendship, but not surprising. Randy Edwards collected the trash in the office building I moved into 18 years ago. Randy never met a stranger and loved to talk over whatever was on his mind, usually early in the morning. Through the years we shared stories about our kids, our health, our lives in general.

One thing you learned about Randy very quickly was that he had not always been the responsible father, employee, and citizen that he was today. He never told me the details but he didn't have to. It was enough that he had spent more than 20 years in a twelve step program. His youth had not been ideal, and there were many things to make amends for, but he somehow made a change. I don't think it was easy. If you ask anyone who has achieved sobriety for a long period of time, there are ups and downs and disappointments and challenges. Somehow, Randy stayed with the program.

I told Randy more than once what an inspiration he was to me. My own father, James Hurst, had died of alcoholism long before his three score years and ten. My father never met Randy, but I wish he had. He might have turned his own life around. Randy knew he had a powerful story to tell and gave back by leading twelve step meetings at homeless shelters and other places. I looked at Randy and in some way my father was redeemed, because it was possible for others.

Randy gave me hope. Washington, D.C., my home city for the last nearly 30 years, has so many people debilitated by poverty, racism, drug addiction and alcoholism. Randy did not let himself become a statistic. And in so doing he showed what is possible, and what greatness lies under the surface of the most destitute and down and out of my fellow citizens.

Randy also gave me encouragement. He was insistent upon working with his own feelings and responses to what happened to him, with the goal of serenity ever in mind. When there were hard times for me, when serenity was hard to come by, Randy just talked like he always did but helped me see the bigger picture. No preaching, no "shoulds", just a trust in the process and a trust in God. In my own moments of self pity and frustration, he helped me to see that change is possible.

When my department had a farewell party for me in December, Randy came, all dressed up and having fun. In retrospect, it was wonderful to get to say goodbye to him. We talked about how we would miss our conversations and our shared spiritual search. Maybe the party was really for him! He died a month later of a heart attaqck at aged 55.

At the Celebration of his life yesterday, I was in awe of how many friends he had at his workplace and in his community. I finally met the family I had heard so much about. I heard the Pastor of Bethel Christian Fellowship, Ronald W. Miles, talk about how any obstacle can be overcome through faith if your goal is something more eternal than the immediate rewards of the material world. This amazing community is in the heart of one of America's worst ghettos, yet hope prevails. This was the community that Randy was a part of.

Randy Edwards did not die a wealthy man in terms of material possessions, though he did pay his bills and own a home and a car, all of which are true achievements considering where he started. But he lived every day challenging himself to be his best self, to live with serenity even when his first response might be anger or frustration.

Randy, you are a friend who will be missed, but who will always be an inspiration to me. And many, many others.


  1. Hi Jane, I'm Jenny, we met through Susan Gibbs and this summer we all had an amazing breakfast together at a place whose name I can't recall in Vineyard Haven. Anyway, thank you for this post. It hit home for me. :) I am sorry for your loss, Randy sounds like he's a very special soul.

  2. I miss seeing Randy in HMB and Benson Hall. You have written a beautiful tribute to him and his legacy, Jane.

    And I miss you too! Can we get together for a walk one of these days?
    I'd love to be your practice run for a Dan Brown "Lost Symbol" tour!