Art #1

Art died the other day.

Here I sit on a gray, windy, leafless morning, leaning closely into a dimly sunlit window. It’s cold and quiet, and I’m up alone, family in bed. Our power was knocked out by last night’s storm.

Art was my roommate during our freshman year of college and my best man four years later. He got a degree in social work, I in nursing. In our mid-twenties, we were older than our fresh-out-of-high-school classmates. Art had been to Moody Bible Institute and done a stint as a youth minister at a Baptist church. He proudly showed a picture of himself laughing with a tableful of school kids in Mexico while on a short-term mission. I had spent five years in the Navy as a medic.

When I met Art, he was disgruntled with church. He had been asked to step down from teaching kids because, in his words, he was encouraging them to think for themselves. Parents didn’t like that. For as long as I knew Art, I don’t think he ever stepped into a church except at my wedding. After sharing my faith story with him, apparently in a way he could stomach, and probably telling him again that he drank and smoked too much, he said, “You know, Ben, I need to keep you around.”

We became Deuce Caboose briefly and played in the snack shop in the basement of the college. Art sang and Steve Barnum and I played guitar and sang. Crosby, Stills and Nash, Cat Stevens, that kind of stuff. We were quite amateur but thought as highly of ourselves as we dared.

Once Art showed me a black-and-white magazine picture of a grizzly-bearded, long-haired homeless man who looked older than his years and said, “That’s what I want to be some day.” It may have been an off-hand, ironic remark, but after watching Art live, I wonder.

Everybody loved Art. He was laid back, liked to poke fun and be poked back at and had a way of organizing people into a good time. On the serious side, he had an honest desire to see the underdog promoted and the less-fortunate cared for.

After freshman year, I moved into an apartment with a different guy and Sharon became my girlfriend. Art and I didn’t see each other as much but were still friends. My wedding was coming up, and I needed a best man. For four years, I’d been studying, working and spending the rest of my time with Sharon. I didn’t have a lot of friends. We had grown distant, but Art was the one. Even he was a little surprised when I asked, but he accepted. One stipulation was that I not drop off the face of his earth. I said I wouldn’t, but I knew I would.

We all graduated and Sharon and I were married. I got a job and some ministries at church. We bought a house and started raising kids.

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