This morning I sang at a memorial service for an 89-year old member of the choir at the church where I am employed. His name was Stuart. And this is his tribute:
When I first met Stuart, I had only recently moved to Boston and began working at the church as a staff singer. Stuart was 88 years old, and I was 24. That's a mighty big age difference for two alike souls. When we first met, though, Stuart offered his hand with a friendly smile, and he said, "Say hello?" (I know now this was a typical greeting from Stuart) I happily accepted his handshake and returned his smile, and when I withdrew my hand from this pleasant greeting, I found that Stuart left inside my hand a small piece of chocolate. The terminal chocolate addict I am, I smiled at this generous act, and Stuart smiled back, simply happy to have me there. It was a special moment.
Over the past year, I've learned a bit about Stuart. An active member of the choir for over 30 years (maybe even 50, if I recall correctly), Stuart lived a life full of love of music. He proudly adorned choir robe #1, and over the years he volunteered his personal time as the music librarian. In the prime of his choir career, Stuart even showed up early to church every Sunday to bake muffins and prepare coffee for the rest of the choir. Simply put, to say that Stuart was devoted to the choir would be unfitting to the true dedication with which he served and sang. No words can describe the nature of his devotion.
The Stuart that I came to know was a bit different, if only on the outside. In 2005, he was diagnosed with cancer of the jaw and subsequently had the majority of his jaw removed. The Stuart I knew was a tiny, frail old man with a distorted face, yet he still exuded a zest for life, and he owned a soul as young as mine. After he conquered his battle with cancer, Stuart still sang. Even with his aging, wobbly voice, Stuart showed up to choir rehearsals almost every Thursday evening up until last year when we last sang together.
And he sang out.
I'll admit, when you have an 88 year-old singing out as loud as he can because he can't hear the music and he can't hear the pitch, it's not a pretty sound! Yet all of that can be ignored when you witness the love pouring from his voice, despite its aged sound and wobbly timbre. And it was beautiful for that.
As I sit here recalling the brief, yet invaluable time I had with Stuart, I am thankful. We don't get many opportunities along the way to witness a positive life force such as the one I found in Stuart Dunbar. I am truly saddened at his passing, yet I find comfort knowing that he is carrying on his tune somewhere beyond my current comprehension. I can only imagine that Heaven has been waiting a long time to get that voice within its gates. And I can't help but smile at the thought of it.
Today I sang one of Stuart's favorite pieces of church music. It's a melody many know and few forget, and its words live on in the memory of my friend, Stuart:
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee.
How great thou art! How great thou art!
In closing, I would like to leave this tribute to a great man with one final musical quote. It's from a beautiful anthem taken from Psalm 23. I don't particularly care what your religious preference may be, because I think anyone anywhere can fall deeply in love with the poetic nature of this text:
O may Thy house be my abode,
And all my work be praise!
There would I find a settled rest,
While others go and come;
No more a stranger, nor a guest,
But like a child at home.
I like to think that Stuart is smiling down on us now, and when he finally shook the hand of his maker, I'm pretty sure he left a small piece of chocolate inside God's hand.
Sing on, Stuart, sing on :)