By Tom Ehrich
I haven't been Marshall's pastor for many years, not since I left his church to accept another call.
But in the small Episcopal world, our paths crossed, and we remained friends, which is probably what God wanted all along.
Marshall died early this morning -- too soon, too young. I find my thoughts flying west to South Dakota, to a Sioux reservation north of Pierre. There on the hard, tormented and yet glorious land of the Cheyenne River Reservation, two dozen of us put aside our North Carolina ways, our careers and fineness, and we lived among generous people.
In time, the Sioux' grace, dignity and generosity overwhelmed us. Marshall and a few other rascals filled their tent with laughter and joy, of an uproarious sort thst surprised our teenagers.
Gary discovered the tribe's cemetery and the great pride they took in serving the nation that had done them wrong. He joined Sioux men in a sweat lodge. He, too, died young.
I awakened each day to a land that I still find compelling, a harsh land where storms sweep suddenly across the prairie and winters are brutal.
We worked hard all day on roofing their church, then took showers in their small homes and ate food they provided from their poverty.
On the drive home -- if memory serves -- I ate breakfast with Marshall in a county seat town east of Pierre, surrounded by farmers and townsfolk wearing Dekalb Seed and John Deere caps. We mused aloud about what it would be like to live there, far from any comforts we knew. We spared our wives the question. But I remember the wondering.
Marshall lost alertness and awareness long ago, and soon lost the rest of life. But I think the wondering will remain. As God receives him into the arms of mercy, a fresh wondering will arise: how can Love be this generous, the morning this lovely, the friendships this enduring?