The Way Death Wakens Us
On Monday morning we were among the many to find a troubling Facebook post referencing the death of Bob Almquist.
What? How could this possibly be? Surely this must be some kind of social media hoax.
Bob was one part of Bob and Marcia Almquist, a couple dear to countless people across the country and to many in Seattle, particularly of Plymouth Church where Bob and Marcia were longtime members.
They met at Carleton College. Together they had served in the Peace Corps. Together they had shepherded the Youth Fellowship (YF) at Plymouth for many years. After a first career in public school teaching, Bob had a second one working for Plymouth Housing, a low-income housing provider in Seattle.
But the story, as always, goes far deeper and is textured by Bob’s mix of gifts and particularities. Bob was the kind of guy who put his shoulder to the wheel. Not afraid to get his hands dirty or to put his remarkably strong, if deceptively ordinary looking, physique to work — whether in work or play. Bob and I took many a hike, bike ride and kayak venture together. He loved to chop wood.
For all that he did and accomplished, and it was plenty, Bob never drew attention to himself. Only in recent years, prodded perhaps by the 2016 election or by a brush with mortality in the autumn of 2017, did Bob become more outspoken about his convictions and concerns. There was a sense, late in life, of Bob finding his voice in a new way. I celebrate that.
You can tell from these remarks that the Facebook post was not a hoax. Gradually, pieces of the story have emerged from Bob and Marcia’s home outside Quito in Equador. They moved there a decade ago to be near Marcia’s older brother. There was a burglary. Bob was murdered. Marcia was injured. She is on the mend.
And so death comes, as an invader, an intruder. Suddenly, one so much a part of our lives, even while being the better part of the year in Equador, is gone. The violence — so not Bob — adding a brutal twist to death’s rapier.
But death comes not only as an invader. It comes as a waking call, a waking cry. It shocks and quickens.
It reminds us that life no matter how long, is also always short.
That an individual, like Bob, whose special gift may have been his goodness in ordinary living, cannot be taken for granted.
Death puts things in perspective, sorting the major and the minor and exposing how often we spend our days majoring in the minors.
John Updike had a little poem that captures the particularity of each loss. “Perfection Wasted.”
“And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
which took a whole life to develop and market —
the quips, the witticisms, the slant
adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
their tears confused with their diamond earrings,
their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,
their response and your performance twinned.
The jokes over the phone. The memories packed
in the rapid-access file. The whole act.
Who will do it again? That’s it: no one;
imitators and descendants aren’t the same.”
Bob had his own “brand of magic,” a compound of decency, humor, playfulness and eagerness to plunge in to the task at hand. It was not wasted. But we now feel the loss of it. He shall be deeply missed.
Though Bob had graduated from Union Theological Seminary, he was not much given to theological statement.
But I am and I shall say that I am confident that this death, while hideous, does not have the last word.
In the face of such evil, the cross and resurrection are a necessary word of defiance and faith. I am confident of the power of the resurrection and of the Lordship of Jesus Christ in the face of evil. I am confident that Bob is at rest (until the next game) in the company of the saints in light.
His whole life gave quiet, unassuming testimony to this truth: love and life, not death, are the true and final reality.