What might we learn when we witness the suffering of others? Do we learn that some persons appear to not “suffer” well, while others seem to endure their suffering patiently?
The question should be what do we know about the suffering of others when we have not personally suffered what they have suffered?
What do we learn about ourselves when we must forego suffering? How well or poorly do we bear suffering?
Can suffering, somehow, be a blessing? In a way! No one begs God to bless us with suffering. We do, if we’re Christians, ask God to give us the strength to suffer in His name to his Glory.
The tale that follows is about love, friendship, courage, and suffering. It is the history of the suffering of a very dear friend. Of his suffering, and that of his family and friends—and of how Helen and I have suffered at the recent, unexpected death of Paul Townsend, and what important lessons we have learned from Paul’s death and from the reaction of those who loved (love) Paul, dearly.
In the latter 1970’s and early 80’s our family lived in Phoenix, AZ. I worked for Valley National Bank and Frank was finishing a music degree from what is now Grand Canyon University (originally Grand Canyon College—class of ’82). I worked with a very fine gentleman named Bill Townsend, and we became good friends. At that time (1978), the Townsend’s two sons attended Grand Canyon College. Paul was in the music program, and Jarrod was in the performing arts program. Frank, who had been a professional musician for over 20 years and was receiving a scholarship from GCC, was very much involved in Canyon’s music program.
Frank and I now live in Arizona City, AZ. I was a Facebook friend of both Paul and Jarrod. Often, I would break into a hearty chuckle, and when Frank would ask me, “What is so hilarious, Helen?” it very often would have been some witty communique from Paul or Jarrod.
About 20 years ago, Paul suffered a serious automobile accident. He suffered numerous physical injuries and a brain trauma, as well. He couldn’t remember who he was; and he had to relearn how to walk. He made an amazing recovery.
About a month ago, Paul had surgery to remove his gall bladder. The surgery proved to be more difficult than anticipated. It seemed that the gall bladder did not “wish” to be removed, so it was a struggle. But, being a sturdy, tough fellow, he apparently came through the surgery, well. But, after a week, when it appeared that all was going to be just fine, Paul unexpectedly died. We don’t know what was the exact cause of his death, other than “complications following surgery.”
The response to this tragic death has been incredible. Hundreds and hundreds of sorrowful persons have flooded Facebook with comments about how Paul had touched their lives. He had been a teacher, mentor, actor, singer, musician, friend, brother, father and husband. Paul is survived by his wife Laney, and five children: Peter, Mary, Joey, Luke, and Sarah.
Paul’s funeral was just last weekend. The church was crowded with friends, students (current and former), and family. Many of them tearfully spoke of “Mr. T” and how his loving personality had changed their lives for the better. One of his friends, Grand Canyon University Professor Michael Kary, had written a poem which he read during the service. We asked Michael for permission to reprint his poem here. It says it all.
“The End of Town”
The news came late; the news came fast.
“Lower your flags to half a mast!
We’ve lost a man of great renown.
At last we’ve reached the end of Town.”
His reach was far; his reach was wide,
Part man, part myth, part carnie ride.
The man was bigger than a noun.
How could this be the end of Town?
I watched him there, up on the stage;
He’d play the goof, he’d play the sage
With depth in which I’d gladly drown.
I cannot bear the end of Town.
I miss that jolly baritone;
The man could squeeze a laugh from stone.
Now Heaven gets our favorite clown
While we all mourn the end of Town.
But there is hope, and there is light.
We know there’s Love, that God makes right.
The suffered wrongs that make us frown,
The hurts that come and drag us down.
This loss we’ll trade-in for a crown.
These filthy rags, a royal gown.
We’ve cause to sing. Let Grace abound;
For this is not the end of Town.
A shout of praise and thanks we send
To God, who gave us this Townsend.