I got word a few hours ago by e-mail that a friend of ours named Dale Peeke died this morning. Dale was a member of my church, St. Patrick's Anglican Catholic Church. He has requested that there be no funeral.
When I first came to St. Patrick's fourteen years ago, Dale was one of its most colorful members. As I recall it (my memory gets worse all the time), he actually drove up on his motorcycle at that time--a big, rough-looking guy, often wearing a leather jacket that said "Christian Motorcyclists Association" on the back. It was funny at a certain time of year, every year, to read a note in the bulletin, put there by Fr. Stephens (may he rest in peace), announcing the CMA "Run for the Son"--this very un-Anglican event. The announcement would always end, "Our own Dale Peeke is very much involved," which for some reason made me want to giggle.
Dale took a delight in each of my daughters--first as babies and then as they got older. He was often ill as time passed, and sometimes when he had been gone from church for a while and came back, he would look at Eldest Daughter and shake his head: "She just gets prettier all the time."
As time went on, he became not only a church friend but also, in a manner of speaking, an ally. The back-story there is of a kind that Trollope or perhaps even Sayers could fit into a novel with great humor. It boils down merely to the fact that musical tastes differ. I, being from a Baptist background, have in my role as organist tried to insinuate some old Baptist or Gospel hymns into the prelude (once we started preludes, about nine years ago, by my reckoning). Dale shared my taste for these, but not everyone else does. Whenever Dale was there I would feel more free to put in something that he would recognize, even if most of the other members didn't, and he would come back afterwards and tell me that he had enjoyed it. One of his favorites, one he mentioned every time I played it, was "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus." He called it "The Heavenly Vision."
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.
A couple of months ago I learned that Dale was in hospice care and had been given only six months to live. By then he hadn't been able to get to church for some while, and at that time I conceived the plan of recording some hymns for him, including of course "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus." But the whole process was clunky, and all the while I had in the back of my mind a kind of embarrassment--wouldn't it sound incredibly amateurish? Wasn't it a little silly to record myself (and ED) singing things and to put it on a CD? Would he like it? I mentioned the plan to him over the phone once, and he seemed pleased. Nonetheless, I dithered. We got a recording device with quite a good quality mike about ten days ago and used it for a concert ED attended with her dad. It sounded good. Still I didn't actually make any move to record us singing.
Then on Sunday we learned that Dale had accidentally started a fire with his oxygen tank and was in the burn unit. This morning he passed away.
Now he doesn't need to hear "The Heavenly Vision." He has something better to do by far--enjoying the heavenly vision. I think I'm the one who lost out by not being more on the ball.
Rest in peace, Dale. I hope Our Lord gives you a new motorcycle and leather jacket someday to go with a new body that never, never needs an oxygen tank. And maybe we can sing some of those songs when we meet again.