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For Whom The Bell Tolls

One of my best friends died today. I have been friends with Morris Bagwell since 1961. Fifty years! We went on long motorcycle trips, co-pastored a church for several years, tried to sort out theological perplexities (we usually agreed), ate a lot of Mexican food together, traveled to Europe, Asia and the Holy Land with our wives, and in general shared our mountains and valleys together. We knew and loved each other.

John Donne was never more right about who the bell tolled for today. It was not just Morris who died today, but a part of me as well. I have a significant set of memories and experiences that passed today. Nobody else knows what we knew together. I am diminished by Morris’ death as I was enriched by his life.

Morris and I conducted religious services, sacraments, wedding and funerals together. Morris officiated at my son’s funeral 18 years ago. Saturday at 1:00 p.m. I will speak at the service celebrating his life.

And his was a life to celebrate! He lived with an enthusiasm that enhanced all the lives around him. Morris lived and loved with an abandonment that infected all of us who have lived at a slower pace. He loved his life and life in general as much as anybody I have ever known. There are those who have lived longer, but not many who have filled their life as he did.

Morris was diagnosed with mesothelioma 2 ½ years ago. He was apparently exposed to asbestos years ago when he worked as a commercial electrician. So we have had lots of time (usually over a good Mexican lunch) to talk about life, death, dying, and heaven. He balanced the desire and fight to live with an ‘enthusiasm’ to experience the real life to come on the other side of death. He wanted to live and was accepting of death. The apostle Paul expressed where Morris lived when he said, “To live is Christ. To die is gain.” Philippians 1:21

He preached his last sermon this past Sunday. We talked on Monday and he said, “I’m done and want to go to my real home.” Pain had been increasing over the past year to the point of being unbearable. Those of us who loved him through our grief and tears today are glad that suffering is over, but our sense of loss is profound.

My mother said in the months before she died (March, 1999) that she had more friends and family on the other side than here. When someone this close graduates, I can relate to her feelings. I feel the wisdom of G. K. Chesterton’s view of our lives when he said, “there comes to all men ultimately the awareness that this earth is the wrong place.” Death always feels wrong. Deep inside we know we are destined for something more somewhere else. Thank God for that hope!