OK, deep breath, everyone... for those who know me presonally, no, this is not directed at the current Bishop of my ward, or any other Bishop from the past 18 years. This entry goes a little farther back in time. Lots of men have held the title and been in that position of responsibility, but when I say "My Bishop", I'm referring to one person and the profound impact he had on me, even at a time when I'm not even sure he (and definitely not I) knew he was having that impact. To protect his families privacy, I'll just refer to him as "Bishop T" from here on out. Truth be told, anyone who knows me and has known me for any length of time probably already knows who I'm talking about :).
Bishop T had the unenviable position of having to deal with me after I turned 17. At that time, I was not just drifting away from church activity, I was jumping into a speedboat and gunning the motor. Bishop T, however, took a keen interest in me, and made it a point to talk with me regularly. I know that, at times, I must have been very much a prickly pear to talk to in those days, but Bishop T had something going for him few other men in the church, or previous Bishops I'd known, had (or should I say, that I could perceive they had). You see, many Bishops seem to spring into life as fully formed versions of Captain Moroni. Stalwart men, strong in the faith, no blemish whatsoever on their pasts, eminently successful in whatever endeavor they pursued (and really, this makes sense; why would any Stake President call a Bishop who wasn't someone who could prove to be an eminently capable administrator?). In short, these men were all paragons of virtue (at least to my recollection), and oftentimes, I found them unbearable to be around (wonderful men though they were).
Bishop T made it clear to me from the get go that he'd seen life from both sides of the line. He'd lived the Dark Side, and forsaken it. He also let me know as much. What?! A Bishop who wasn't Lily White and perfectly spotless in every way?! Thus, when Bishop T talked to me, it felt like a kindred spirit was communicating with me.
Over the years, we had varying levels of contact. It was with great pleasure I saw him some years after I left my home ward and I came back to visit and tell him I was active in the church again. His smile was huge, and his happiness for me was evident. A few years later, I saw him and his wife at a public event, and we chatted for a few minutes, and then I decided to show him something I'd recently been given... my temple recommend. When I showed him that, he gave me the biggest grin, and then enveloped me in a bear hug that I thought would asphyxiate me (LOL!). He and his wife smiled conspiratorially at each other and said "Michael, we both knew that it wasn't a matter of *if* you would get that, just a matter of *when*." Yes, Bishop T knew me better than I knew myself, I have no doubt about that.
Bishop T's style and manner is something I try to emulate today. He was not just a man with a past, but a man who truly learned from his past, and he was one who did not glorify it, but made a point to talk about things he learned while he was living on the Dark Side of life. It helped me to know that, truly, there was a man who really knew how I felt, and yet he was not willing to make excuses, or let me make excuses. He knew that it would be so easy for me to walk away if everyone were to have just written me off and forgot about me. Bishop T never did, and he made a point to let me know that he never would. His wife would tell me later that he would talk to her about me, about the things that we talked about, and he'd say to her "ya' know, I just *get* that boy, and I think he *gets* me. I know I'm geting through to him, even if its just in a small way." Well, it's true, he did, and in much more than a *small* way.
Bishop T passed away last week from a sudden heart attack. He'd had health issues in the past, but he always beat them, and he had the spirit of a fighter. I knew anything that was going to take Bishop T down would have to be something to hit him swiftly before he would have a chance to fight back. In many ways, I think that was the best way for him to go. Still, it's a painful way to go for those who are left behind. All four of my grandparents have now passed on, and three of them had protracted illnesses, where the writing was on the wall and we all had plenty of time to prepare for it and accept it when it came. However, my mother's father went the way Bishop T did. One minute he was fine and active, the next, he was gone, as though a switch had been thrown and suddenly, he's out of our life. That kind of passing leaves a huge hole in the lives of those left behind. I'm sure Bishop T's family feels the same way.
I attended a viewing for Bishop T Sunday evening with my father, and I had a chance to visit with him one final time. Seeing him lying in state with his friends and family surrounding him, I couldn't help but smile for him. He was a wonderful man, a terrific Bishop, and now I realize... he was a terrific friend to me. When his wife came up to me, held my hand and thanked me for being there, saying "Bishop T is smiling from Heaven. I know he's very happy that *you* are here right now!" Several times during the evening, she would take me around to introduce me to severala people from Bishop T's side of the family I had never met and say "this was one of Bishop T's favorite kids... they used to share stories from the Dark Side", and I felt it confirmed to me that, not only was Bishop T and his wife and family very special to me... but that I was very special to them, too.
Sometimes we take for granted the people that are part of our lives, we always think there will be time to see them, talk to them, share memories with them, but the hustle and hurry of life gets in the way. Sadly, I will not have any more opportunities in this life to speak directly to Bishop T, but I have a firm testimony that what he stood for, and the testimony that he held, and that I also jointly hold, means that I *will* see him again after this life is over. I look forward to that day, when on the other side of the veil I and a fellow war buddy from the battle of the Dark Side will be able to sit together and be active friends once more.
There have been many men in my life who have served admirably and humbly in the role of Bishop, but to this day, there's still only one man who I will refer to as "My Bishop". God bless you and keep you, Bishop T. You left a legacy that will be cherished by many, but most certainly will be cherished by me. God be with you 'til we meet again.