Our entire church community was greatly saddened this past week when a tragic automobile accident took from our midst a treasured member, Gil Rosenberg. Gil was the devoted husband of June Widman, and the dear father of Jess and Greg. My sons, Brendan and Patrick, knew him as “coach,” because Gil was passionate about basketball and soccer. He coached Greg’s basketball team when our kids were in the Pee Wee and Junior leagues together. And for several seasons, Gil coached girls’ soccer at the Berea Community School. His players deeply respected and loved him. That was evident to all of us sitting in the stands and watching with admiration. Even more evident was Gil’s love and devotion towards his players. He was a great coach.
Gil’s most evident trait however was his combination of intelligence and wit. As they say in Boston, he was “wicked smaht.” It seemed he could hardly put two sentences together without interjecting a joke, pun, or comic allusion to current events. I’m sure that endeared him to his students in Lexington where he taught writing. No doubt he would have something funny to say about dying right after administering a “final” exam there. Gil was cool. Gil was hip. He was extremely serious, light-hearted and comic all at the same time.
Oh, I almost forgot: Gil was also Jewish. That’s what made his faithful attendance at St. Clare’s Catholic Church so remarkable. Gil would probably explain, “Why not? Jesus was a Jew, wasn’t he? It’s you guys who should feel weird for making him into a Christian.” And then he’d laugh, search everyone’s faces, and look away. That was his schtick.
So where is Gil now? Surely he’s in heaven, whatever that means. I recently read a cover story in the Easter edition of Time Magazine. Perhaps you’ve seen it too. It was called, “Rethinking Heaven.” The article compared what the author called the “Blue Sky” understanding of heaven with a this-worldly take that was described as “God’s space” here on earth – a space of love, joy, and justice. Gil often inhabited that space for sure. And he drew others into it too.
As for the “Blue Sky” approach, it refers to the place up in the sky we all imagined as children. It’s where we live after death with God and Jesus and our loved one who preceded us in death. Few of us can take that literally as adults. It seems to be a metaphor for the greatest happiness we can imagine – indescribable fulfillment and joy. It’s a metaphor for what we can expect from the God revealed by the Jewish Jesus – a God who is a loving Father, but more like a Jewish mother who just gives and gives and gives without ceasing. That’s the Mother; that’s the Father that our faith tells us Gil is somehow with at this very moment.
All that was required of Gil to enter that heaven was surrender. I can imagine him surrendering, flashing that sly smile of his, and saying, “Let’s see what comes next – the next great adventure.” What came next, I’m sure was some sort of meeting with the Jewish Jesus, who somehow said, “Welcome home, brother.”
As for us left behind by Gil. . . . We’re still wiping our eyes. We can barely say through our tears, “God’s speed, Gil. You are already missed. Your generosity, your dedication as a coach and teacher, your love and hard work as a father and husband, your keen mind and light-hearted wit will not be forgotten.”