Cecil Cook was my best and good friend. It is approaching the 7 th anniversary of his death soon. Perhaps as much as any single person that I have ever known he has affected both the person I am today and the person I hope someday to be. The two posts below were written within a week of his death and while they mourn his death, more importantly, much more importantly they celebrate his life.
You meet very few incredible people in this life. My good and great friend Cecil Cook was such a person.
They called this afternoon. He died in a plane crash yesterday. He was the only one aboard a small plane. They dont know what happened, dont know when they will. They said he was literally minutes away from a safe place to land.
Today has been numbness and tears, both without warning, in moments forever, like a terrifying dance. I try to tell myself that he is in a better place and how lucky I was to know him, when so many didnt have the honor, but I feel ripped and torn and life a little less in some important way I dont understand.
Cecil was a good person in a way that goodness really means something. Kindness was for him not an affectation like it is for some people. It was not a burden to be endured. It was not what he tried to be or what he had to be. It is simply what he was. It was breath and light and sun. It made no sense to think of him in any other way. And with him you knew that kindness was really strength and you found yourself hoping that someone might tell you you were at least a little like Cecil. He had the unique ability to tell people no matter what their pain, what the circumstances of their life were, that the door to their life was still open.
Cecil was the chaplain at Ft. Sanders in Knoxville. For 16 years it has been his hospital. Today I stood in the chaplains space, in the offices, the hallways, and chapel and watched as person after person came to say goodbye or just to come and look and see if it was true. Some wanted to talk. Some just stood quietly and cried. From cafeteria worker to nurse to doctor to administrator they all came. Their words were simple, “….he was my friend….” We talked. After a while we just stood. Then we left. We had no where to go. We just didnt know what to do.
But while his death was tragic and the days ahead will seem slow and immobile this is not about his death. For you see the living of Cecil Cook was the real miracle. It was the real story. And that is really what I want to share.
We met Cecil about 10 years ago. My dad was in the hospital dying from cancer. My wife and I had traveled with 2 of our kids 250 miles to be there. The kids were 10 and 12 and waiting in the waiting room was no what they can do. So they got on the elevators and starting riding. I guess they saw the hospital that day. I went looking for them, but never came close. Finally they came in with a smile on their face telling me that we had to meet this guy they had met. In their rush of words I got he was the chaplain but really didnt understand much else.
I never found out how Cecil knew to rescue them, but somehow he found out and did. He had told them the story of the prodigal son, but somehow in his version every word started with F. There were farthings, and fitlings, and friends and fathers and a whole lot of other things that I dont remember. Cecil recited it for us that day also. Every word did start with F. I never found out where he found that story either. Linda and I walked away that day that day better. In the short time we knew him we already had a sense that pain was not forever.
We became friends. And what a friend he was. He was a confidant, he was a support, he was a teacher. He helped us to know in his giving that our giving mattered.
Cecil had started the Stephen Minister program at FT. Sanders and in time Linda became a Stephen Minister. He taught the power of the broken reaching out to the broken. He believed in the value of ordinary human beings and when he would tell stories of those he ministered to you knew he felt as blessed by them and anything he did for them. If love is measured by what you give, then Cecil had riches beyond riches.
He loved poetry and he loved words. It seemed like he had every poem in the world memorized and when the occasion called for it he always seemed to know what verse to recite. I saw him cry when talking about the pain of others and the illnesses he encountered on a daily basis. But he could listen and he could care and everyone who met him knew they were cared for. And they knew that although pain was real and inescapable some times that loneliness was not. And in Cecil’s heart I think they knew the reality of the God he served.
After years of tagging along with Linda and being an unofficial Stephen Minister I decided to finally take the training and become official. Our class, Cecil’s last, has just started. The training will continue and I hope to graduate. But I will sorely miss him not being there to congratulate me. He so much shared joy you didnt feel like it was a hard thing to find and right now I wish I knew where to look.
Cecil I think is in a better place and Heaven is a brighter and even cheerier place this night. I really wish you could have known him. He was a friend, a colleague, a model, a teacher and I dont know how many other things. Somehow I always had the feeling he could help regardless of how bad things were. God is a God of miracles or how else could there be a Cecil. It was an honor to know Cecil, but you know, I really think he felt like it was an honor to know me.
I dont know how to end. I dont know if I want to. The night ahead and days to follow already seem long. I saw Cecil do a funeral once. He turned to the audience and said, “Lets talk about her living…” It seemed like such a good way to say goodbye. Good bye Cecil. I dont know where we would be without you. You have touched so many in so many ways and I hope when you look down you see in our living a small token of how much you have meant to all of us.
Cecil Cook (see “The living of Cecil Cook” on this blog) was finally put to rest today. Close to 400 people crowded into an auditorium intended for 225 to say their final goodbyes and celebrate the life of a man who had touched virtually everyone of them in special ways. Cecil died in a plane crash about a week ago and for a week we have all cried and bled, each in his own ways. The gash has been deep and painful. A community has been changed.
Different people talked about the gifts Cecil had given to them. In little ways he had given them big things. One lady talked about how Cecil had shown up at her house with a lawnmower and told her he was ready to mow the grass she had never been able how to figure out how to get done. She had no money and no mower. He told her there was one catch. She had to agree to let him buy her pizza before he could go ahead and mow. Her eyes glistened when she talked. He showed her the reality of kindness in a world that for her had shown little. One former colleague talked about how hard it was for Cecil to get to meetings. Anytime he passed someone having a hard time he stopped to talk. Sometimes he just never made the meetings. One pastor said it simply. “Cecil taught me the secret of being a good pastor. Never close your door.” And in the deepest and most substantial ways Cecil never closed his.
I spoke for a minute. And I hadnt opened my mouth and I had started to cry. Cecil I tried to explain taught me kindness and wisdom were the same thing. Anyone he touched learned that lesson. I hope someday to lead the kind of life that might teach the same lesson to someone else.
I think we have to give credit to the most substantial change. Have we been changed by Cecil’s passing…. Sure. But we have been changed in a much more substantial way though. We have been changed by his coming. And that is a change that can survive his death. Someone once told me they wanted to live for a purpose that survived his death. We are all part of Cecil’s purpose… all those he has met and all those we meet. In our living we keep Cecil alive. And our stories, our living, our loving in a very real sense is the real story we tell about Cecil Cook.
May God bless. Cecil you will be missed, but may the seeds you planted grow to be far more than the flower you were.