It was a shock on Tuesday when I got the call - that Bob Carey had died. Sure, I knew his health had been poor for some time, but I didn't think it was that poor. I've kind of been in and out of a fog the last couple of days. Most moments are fine, but others...
I get the honor of officiating at his funeral on Monday. I say "honor" because funerals are one of the most important parts of my job. Most important, because - as a wise funeral director shared with me - this is a time when the mortal brushes against the immortal.
Most of my blog readers will probably stop reading shortly; Bob doesn't mean anything to them. That's OK. He meant a lot to me, and that's what matters.
When I was growing up, Bob was a know-it-all. By that, I mean that Bob knew everything, and if he didn't, he'd research it and find out (or he'd do a convincing enough job of fudging his way through that you'd be pretty sure that he knew what he was talking about). His range of expertise reached almost as far as his influence. As I got older, Bob started asking questions. He seemed to thoroughly enjoy talking to me about church life, church politics, denominational stuff, even the trivialities of it (like his theory on why many churches are moving from parsonages to housing allowances. We happened to disagree on this point).
Bob was a big influence on my life - partly because his son was my best friend. I spent a whole lot of time with them, whether it was at their house, at the Dunes, in the UP (Michigan) where they took me skiing, or on the soccer field. Bob was my coach for several years. My most memorable Bob Carey moment was the Hurricanes' championship game against the Panthers. It was the 1-2 match-up we were supposed to have, and they proved to be a great team, going up 3-0 in the first 15 minutes. I pulled one back just before half on a (poorly-taken) penalty that squeaked under a falling keeper.
After my empassioned half-time speech, we pulled two more back, tying the game. We went to overtime. No score. Another overtime period. No score. On to "golden goal" (though I think they still used the phrase "sudden death" at that time). No score. In the third "golden goal" overtime, we got a free kick and Nathan Cracraft buried it from distance. We were extatic, but you should have seen Bob. He came tearing out onto the pitch - it was quite a site seeing Bob running, bellowing at the top of his lungs - and he gave Nathan and me the biggest bear-hug imaginable. We were all jumping and shouting, Bob right in the middle of it - you'd have thought we'd won the World Cup.
I also remember him teasing David (his son) about Indiana basketball. It was 1987, the year the Hoosiers ended up winning the NCAA championship, and we were all Hoosier basketball fans, but for some reason, Bob decided that Indiana was going to lose. Before every game, he would announce to David that, "They are going to lose this game. Everyone else has had an off game, and this is their night for the off game. They don't stand a chance." David would get riled up, and Bob would look over at me with that playful twinkle in his eye and lay it on even thicker. Of course, that was the year that IU won it on that fantastic game winning jump shot that made Keith Smart a household name - and after that win, he told David, "I knew they were going to win all along."
I had a good visit with Bob and Suzanne (his wife) at Thanksgiving. Our family was doing our Thanksgiving/Christmas get-together at my sister's house, and there were just too many people to stay at her house and it was getting her stressed out (the sleeping arrangements plus all the Thanksgiving AND Christmas stuff), so we volunteered to stay elsewhere. The Careys were delighted to have us over. We spent hours talking about life - a cherished time. Now I'm glad that there was "no room in the inn" - otherwise I would have missed out on that chance.
Bob was a good man, and he will be sorely missed here on earth. But I can imagine his wonder and amazement at how fantastic heaven really is - how it blows away even his greatest imagination of how it would be. And one day, when I make it, I'll get to hang out with him again. He'll probably want to give me the grand tour and tell me the history of everything up there.
Some of which he'll be making up on the spot, with that twinkle in his eye.
He's just that kind of a guy.