Wednesday, June 19, 2013

May His Memory Be For a Blessing

Gregory Tyrone Walton 

His funeral was held today.

Gregory grew up in the District, attended DC Public Schools and studied Business Management at Federal City College.  As many of our generation did, he joined the Peace Corps, where he learned masonry.

I met him three years ago, when we opened Gan Shalom, the Jewish Cooperative Preschool, supported by the Hill Havurah, on Capitol Hill in the District.  We rent space in a rowhouse (aka "town house") owned by the Capitol Hill Seventh Day Adventist Church.  Gregory was a member of the Church, took care of their grounds and did custodial work for them.  He became our custodian, too... and in the three years we worked together, my respect for him increased on a regular basis. 

Gregory was unique. 

To quote a friend of his: 
  • Gregory was humble, thoughtful and kind.
  • Gregory had a beautiful singing voice.
  • Gregory could speak French with an awesome French accent.
  • Gregory asked questions when he didn't know something,  and introduced himself if he didn't know someone (or their dog).
  • He never had a bad word to say about anyone and had a smile for EVERYONE.

When I first met him, I didn't quite know what to make of Gregory - this incredible bundle of energy, who smiled non-stop, greeted people by name, asked about each of my family members by name, and ended his conversations with a "God bless you, Mary."  I learned to ask about his family in return, and he always responded, "They're doing well, Praise the Lord.  And thank you for asking."  

This last year was more difficult for him.  He was having some health problems, which he chose not to discuss.  A number of us were worried, but we respected his right to privacy. This spring, he unexpectedly went into the hospital.  Upon discharge, he called me to let me know that he wouldn't be able to work for us any longer because of his health problems.  He apologized for inconveniencing us. 

Gregory died last Wednesday. 

I've been thinking a lot about the impact he had on my life, on our students' lives, on their families' lives, on the neighborhoods and the communities he interacted with.  In the shadow of the Capitol, where power and influence often make themselves known, Gregory was truly unique. Today, I stopped my busy-ness to reflect on that uniqueness.  

Here's what I realized: 

Gregory was one of the few truly happy people I've known.  His "Praise the Lord"s echoed the joy he found in every-day life: in cleaning, and mowing, and walking his dogs, riding his bike, and greeting the people who passed by. 

Many of us hold a bit of ourselves in reserve. We learn to hide behind the mask we wear in public.  Gregory wore no mask.  He was genuine - the same person no matter what the setting was. 

He taught me to slow down - his sincere questions about how my family members were doing, which needed to be addressed before we could "talk business" made me realize that, yes, it really is all about relationships.  And so I learned to listen when he talked, so that I could reciprocate the lovingkindness he demonstrated. 

His attention to detail was shown in the way he salted and sanded the icy metal steps of the rowhouse - without ever being asked - so we all could climb the steps safely in our erratic Washington winters.  He noticed when the entry-way throw rug was dirty and - without being asked - saw that it was washed and returned. 

In this day of politically-correct language, Gregory was an unabashed, absolutely joy-filled Christian, who proclaimed his faith on a regular basis.  And yet, his acceptance of our Jewish beliefs and practices was unequivocal.  

I learned a lot about Gregory today from a number of people in the filled-Church service - but we all seemed to agree on how our lives had been changed dramatically - for the good - by this humble man who encountered everyone as if he could see the spark of the Divine in them.  

And I was reminded by something a friend wrote in my yearbook from Edgewood High School in Madison, Wisconsin, when I was a sophomore: 
Our lives are shaped by those who love us... by those who refuse to love us.
May his memory be for a blessing.


Lindsay said...

Thanks for this post. Gregory was a friend of mine, and I didn't know he had passed until I called today and his number was disconnected. He was such a special person and you did a great job of capturing that. Thank you.

janaki said...

Sounds like Gregory was a lovely person - what a beautiful eulogy your words are. I'm curious - where did he learn French??

He really sounds like a wonderful person, who lived a wonderful (and he would probably say "blessed") life.