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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Requiem For A Champion

As you can see, this is a pretty old column. I'm re-posting it because John Paulk, who is a Facebook friend of mine, posted that he's got a friend that is starting chemotherapy for a pretty aggressive cancer. Courage, no matter where it manifests, is always to be saluted and celebrated.

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Harlan Bennett

17 May 2005


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I’ll never forget the first time that WonderWife and I went to St. Phillip’s United Methodist Church. We were looking for a church home, and, being as we are both lesbians legally married to each other (in Texas, but that's a tale for another time), simply finding a church where we were welcome wasn’t exactly the easiest thing we had ever done. We had been members of a Reconciling Ministries Methodist congregation, and, due to several factors which I won’t go into, weren’t happy there. In fact, we were unhappy enough that we had left the church and hadn’t been to a church - any church -  for several years. Be that as it may, we had decided that we wanted to find another church to go to. Both of us had truly missed the fellowship, and the worshipping together with people that we felt comfortable with, so we set out to find ourselves a church home in WhiteRepublicanLand.

Us belonging to the Methodist Church was a compromise of sorts; I am a Roman Catholic, and WonderWife had settled on the Unitarian Universalists. Nothing against the Unitarian Universalists, but I myself was reared in a somewhat stricter religious environment, and WonderWife wasn’t exactly comfortable with that, while I was extremely uncomfortable with a religion that had no discernable creed, so we compromised, and went to the Methodist Church. It’s a most excellent religion, very social work and social justice oriented, and we were both satisfied.

At any rate, we started out to go to several churches in the area, and we found out a pretty curious thing: None of the Methodist churches in our area wanted anything to do with us. They didn’t object to our coming once or twice, but after that, they really, REALLY didn’t want two out and open queers sitting in the pews every Sunday, and we were oh, ever so politely, told that they didn’t think we’d be happy with them, and that they would appreciate it if we’d just go away and not come back. Four or five rejections of this sort pretty much tend to put you on edge, and make you wish that you weren't trying to be a Christian. We were in a pretty grumpy state of mind when we finally went to St. Phillip’s.

We had decided to go to the early service, because that’s usually the best service to check things out during, and decide if we were even interested in returning.  St. Phillip’s was different.  Oh, boy was St. Phillip’s different. We came in on an evangelical early morning worship service, with everybody singing at the tops of their lungs, obviously glad to be there, obviously happy with what was going on – and filled to overflowing with love and devotion. The pastor’s sermon that day was absolutely amazing; he preached on Christ’s making Himself of no repute because He insisted on hanging out with publicans and sinners, and…well, WOW. We knew then that this was the church that we wanted to stay with, the one that we’d been looking for – and, after the service, is when we met Ed and Renee Williams.

Don’t get me wrong – we met everyone that day including both of the pastors, who are terrific folks, but it was Ed and Renee who really made an impression, right off the bat. Renee has one of those lovely, carved faces with all the laugh lines in the right places, and Ed is always smiling and glad to see you – and not being phony about it, which is really easy to spot. I had worked myself up into such a state of nerves, expecting to add yet another rejection to our list of disappointments, that I developed some fairly severe back muscles spasms, and was basically flopping around in my wheelchair like a fish out of water, and WonderWife, Polly (the assistant pastor), Louis (the senior pastor), Renee and Ed were all trying to help me. The rest of the people that were there that day were all standing around, ready to jump in at a minutes’ notice, but I noticed Renee, because she was on a walker, was having a hard time standing, and was still trying to help.

We found out later that Renee had had a pretty hard time. She had had cancer, had chemotherapy for it, had had a truly horrendous car accident that resulted in a closed head wound, and generally, physically, had a great deal of trouble doing much of anything. I thought at first that she had had a stroke, because her speech was the kind of slow-speaking that stroke victims tend to have when they are recovering. Ed told us a little bit of what had happened to her, and several other people in the church told us a little bit more, and I have got to say, my admiration for her just went sky-high after that. Here is a woman who’s got worse physical problems than I do, who isn’t whining, crying or grizzling about her situation, who doesn’t allow it to run her life, and who is just as active a church member as anyone could ever wish for.

Grace – and courage.

She started chemotherapy again about two months ago, and was having a really hard time. She didn’t let it slow her down, though; she kept her position on the Prayer Team, and kept coming to church and to Sunday School, and she never complained. NEVER. Unfortunately, all that grace and courage didn’t help her when the chemotherapy got her liver all stirred up, and the doctors found that she also had a pretty nasty case of Hepatitis B to go along with that.

Courage – and grace.

Ed sent out an e-mail that Renee was a lot worse, was in a coma, and that she was going to be transferred to Hermann Hospital’s Liver Unit. The doctors over there were washing her blood, hoping against hope that this would help, and he was asking for blood donors. Sunday, he came to our Sunday School class to tell us all that the doctors had declared Renee terminal, that there was nothing more that they could do for her, and that her physical death was probably only a matter of a few days away.

I wish that I had been privileged to know Renee Williams a bit better, and I also wish that I'd been privileged to know her a whole lot longer. She epitomized, for me and for everyone else that knew here, the absolute ideal of grace and courage. Grace, in that she knew that she was pretty much doomed, accepted it, and didn’t allow it to rule her life. Courage, in that, when she started the chemotherapy this time, she knew that it probably wasn’t going to have a happy outcome, and she went ahead with it anyhow.

Courage – the best, highest kind of courage – knows that you’re licked before you ever start, but you try it anyhow, and you don’t whine about the outcome, be it good, bad or indifferent. Renee Williams is the best example of that courage that I’ve ever seen. She’s a true champion.