We called him Uncle Gary even though he wasn’t really our uncle.
He was more like a second father to Amanda and me as we grew up alongside his two beautiful daughters—Julie and Sarah—during our time in Birmingham.
Uncle Gary was at every awards ceremony, every talent show, every birthday party, every swimming lesson, every seemingly endless Christmas program at Parkway Christian Academy. He brought with him a disarming sense of humor and warm Southern charm that was gentle and infectious and pure. Even as a child I recognized him as an old soul.
Whenever James Spann issued a tornado warning for Jefferson County, the Greene family would rush over to our house to take shelter in our musty basement. Somehow Uncle Gary would get us all laughing about how silly we looked huddled around the TV in our pajamas and we would forget to be afraid.
We lived for sleepovers back then, so Uncle Gary tucked us in at night more times than I can count. With a twinkle in his eye, he would promise Julie that he would leave the music on, see that Sarah had Little Lamb and Trudy tucked safely under her arms, and assure Amanda once again that Large Marge didn’t live in the closet. Before we went to sleep, we liked to listen to this Sandi Patty song about love in every language, which Uncle Gary was particularly fond of because the Japanese part sounded as if Sandi was singing “I like my broccoli blue.” He sang this part the loudest, and we giggled long after he had left the room.
Uncle Gary was the kind of man who saw the sacred everywhere. From a game of racquetball, to a steaming bowl of grits, to an acoustic jam session, to his beloved Andy Griffith Show, he seemed to walk through life with an easy, delighted reverence for what God has made. He found wonder not only in Scripture, but in Flannery O’Conner and Gerard Manley Hopkins. He worshipped not only in church, but in the classroom, on mountain trails, in his office, and in his home.
Perhaps this is why Uncle Gary had a reputation for making people feel good about themselves. He was always looking for the best in us, that spark of the divine.
A student has noted that in one of his last chapel sermons, Uncle Gary spoke about John 11, the passage that includes the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus Wept.”
“What is more profound,” Uncle Gary asked, “Having a God who raises the dead or having a God who will weep with you in your pain?”
Uncle Gary wasn't a radical. He didn’t sell all of his things to live among the poor. He didn’t perform miracles. He didn’t raise the dead. But like Jesus, he wept with us, laughed with us, prayed with us, and loved us. He was radically faithful in the little things.
As I read through the wave of heartfelt messages left for the Greenes on Facebook, I was overwhelmed by how many people have been touched by Uncle Gary over the years. People remember his sense of humor, his strength of character, his mad guitar skills, his silly skits, his love for life, his tenderness and humility. They recall the times when he went out of his way to help, the times he brought laughter to the mundane, the times he made scary things seem small, and the times when he was just there when they needed him.
It seems he was as good to everyone as he would be to his own family.
In a way, he was everyone’s Uncle Gary.
Please pray for the Greene family and all who love them this weekend as we say goodbye to Uncle Gary, who died suddenly Thursday afternoon of an apparent heart attack. Our grief is hard to put into words.
© 2010 All rights reserved.
Copying and republishing this article on other Web sites without written permission is prohibited.