In Memoriam

With deep love and heavy yet joyous hearts, we celebrated Brigardo Groves this afternoon. He was a great and loving spirit – and as an atheist I use the word spirit with relative comfort when it comes to Brigardo, describing a bigness of connection, an enthusiasm of experience, a giddy and contagious relish for life. He was a devout believer in God, and knowing that I am an atheist he was a devout believer in me. He was a devout believer in us all.

I did not cry until his beautiful daughters got up to speak about him. They did so with such praise and respect that I kind of fell apart. My own father will pass someday, and even if it is 20 years from now I will not have had enough of his spirit. He is an atheist too, and yet that word still feels appropriate.

I am going to call my father right now. I am going to tell him how much I love him. Tomorrow I will go to see my father in law, who is looking at his own end. I will ask him what it feels like, what seems important to him, what he thinks I should be paying the most attention to. I think Brigardo’s children might have wished to ask him these things. I hope that the shock of his loss will encourage us all to shake off the torpor of daily homeostasis and ask the questions we ought to be asking.

This is the memory of Brigardo that I sent out to the Glide Ensemble community when I heard of his passing, pasted directly from our email stream. The last paragraph refers to an email from a fellow member now working on his divinity degree who wondered what kind of language the atheists in the congregation might use to describe the feelings we all shared at his loss.

“Wow. I just read my Glide email for the first time in a couple of days and I am truly shocked to hear of Brigardo’s passing. He was one of the most welcoming faces of Glide for me.

About 6 months ago I chose to sit in the congregation for the 9am services instead of singing – sometimes I need to receive what we’re putting out there, for my own heart’s best interest – and I ended up sitting next to his famed spot right in the front. I had of course seen him every Sunday and been affected by his contagious joy, but had never actually met him in person. But he knew me alright, and began talking to me immediately, asking about my tattoos and telling me about his daughter’s tattoos, asking for some advice about how best to let her know that he respected her decision about her own body even if it sort of freaked him out.

Then, completely out of the blue, he bit the tattoo on my shoulder and said he wanted to know what it tasted like. I had a moment of panic – I had never, after all, met him personally before this moment – but then he giggled mischievously like a child that’s gotten away with something and my brief panic disappeared to be replaced by the same giggles that were shaking him. He put his arm around my shoulder and gave me a big squidge and said “I love you like you were my own.” I believed him completely. Though it was the first conversation I’d ever had with him, though I am not entirely sure that he even knew my name, I believed him completely. I think that is how his heart worked.

I did not have the privilege to know him very well or very long, but I give honor and love to those of you who did and are so pained by his loss. And I give thanks to all the Glide community for creating a place where he felt so joyously loved as to be able to nibble a near-total stranger with impunity, confident of being understood and giggled with. 😉

R_, I think I would use similar language to yours – gratitude for knowing him, awe at the intricate patterns of life that allowed me to know him, a hope that the web of love that holds us in community was with him in his last moments. Whether one believes that it comes from inside or outside, that love is real and his love was a vast and wondrous part of the whole that will be sorely missed.”

Your Friendly Neighborhood Atheist suggests that you go find one of the people who inspire and support you, and tell them about it. Regardless of the language you use, it WILL make a difference.

Love to you all,

-An Atheist In Church

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