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Lessons From a Wise Man

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Everyone needs a wise man. If you don’t have one of your own, you can borrow mine. I know he wouldn’t mind because he loved everyone.

Every. One.

Jim Scherer was an extraordinary man and an unconventional priest who cared more about living and loving like Jesus than about church rules and regs. He broke his share of them, all in an effort to welcome people into God’s Love.

He looked more like a bald, short-bearded Santa than a man of the pulpit. His eyes smiled, and he spoke in parables, which are much easier for our hearts and souls to absorb than doctrine and rules. He’s the wisest man I’ve ever known.

I’ll always be grateful that Divinity brought my wandering path to an intersection with his. I was in my twenties, working in TV, and trying to make sense of the harder parts of my life. He had a counseling practice and helped me see things I never had before - about myself and others, codependency, and boundaries. And, because of the way he lived, about God and Love.

I’m sure I could have used more time in his office, but that would have precluded real friendship, so I ended my weekly visits and became Jim’s buddy. He eventually blessed Hubs and me as we exchanged wedding vows, and he baptized our babies, pouring water on their heads with a generations-old seashell that his family had used back in the old country and passed down ever since.

It was in these days, over shared meals and conversations, that I became the blessed recipient of this wise man’s stories.

My favorite is about his middle-aged visit to Annapolis, Maryland where he strolled along the harbor one sunny day, admiring the sailboats, vessels of the open water that had captured his heart from the time he was a boy.

He noticed one with a couple milling about the deck. Jim being Jim, he struck up a conversation with them, complimenting the “beauty-ful” boat and telling them that he had always wanted to learn to sail.

“We’re about to head out,” the man said. “Come with us and I’ll teach you.”

Jim didn’t hesitate to say yes.

Of course. That was so Jim. He knew no strangers.

As the trio set sail, the captain gave instructions, which Jim was delighted to follow - until he was asked to climb the mast and unfurl the sail.

“Oh, no, no, no - I can’t do that,” Jim said. He was deathly afraid of heights.

The captain thought for a few seconds and said, “Well, the way I see it, you have four choices. You can climb the mast and feel good about it. You can climb and feel bad about it. You can stay down and feel good about it. Or, you can stay down and feel bad about it.”

Jim nodded, wondering where this was going.

“But,” the captain continued, “no one wants to feel bad about a decision, so you really only have two choices. You can go up and feel good about it. Or you can stay down and feel good about it..”

Jim nodded again and the man kept talking.

“But how good are you gonna feel about staying down when you came here to learn? So, you really only have one choice: to go up and feel good about it.”

Jim was so inspired that he couldn’t help himself. He said yes.

“Just be sure you don’t look down,” the captain said.

My sage nodded and began to climb.

But when he got about three-quarters of the way up, Jim made the monumental error of looking down. And then he froze. Catatonic was the word he used to describe it.

Again, the captain piped in and inspired him to continue all the way up the mast and then instructed him to unfurl the sail. When Jim had succeeded, he announced he was coming down.

“No, not yet!” the captain called up urgently. “You’ve just done something you didn’t think you could do, and you might never have this view again. Stay where you are a while and take it in."

And that’s what Jim did. He soaked in the beauty around him.

I thought about this parable recently as I gathered with a crowd of people who also love Jim. We sipped iced tea and ate church pasta, a meal that sat heavy after his funeral mass where we prayed and sang his favorite hymns.

Different paths had brought each of us to Jim, but we all arrived here for the same reason: to pay homage to him in the company of others who feel the same deep love and loss.

Making my way around the room, listening to the stories, wiping tears and having laughs - it all made me think about Jim’s sailing lesson, which has, for many years, also been my life lesson. All of us gathered were climbing up from a very hard loss. But in that church hall with those people, it was like reaching the top of the mast. I stayed a long while, lingering to take in the view. Take in the memories and the "beauty-ful" love. Just the way my wise man did. And just the way he taught me to.


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