My friend, Murray Brown, died in November 2007. When I heard the news I wrote his wife a letter. I am posting a copy of some of what I wrote here, as a tribute to a good man.
I have very warm memories of Murray. He is someone that I admired greatly and someone whose friendship was very important to me at some key moments in my life. Despite our difference in years I felt very close to Murray - he did not hide behind his seniority in years or his priestly status. He was very warm and big hearted and that is what enabled me to be his friend.
After I heard the news this morning I went and phoned Matt, to console and be consoled. I then spent some time pouring out some memories to Katie, my partner - memories of Murray. She did not have the privilege of meeting him - something that I now very much regret. But it was good to be able to share with her memories of someone whom I consider to be simply a good man.
In trying to describe Murray to Katie, I found myself using the word `naive'. I mean that in a completely positive way. He was naive because he eschewed the faux worldliness of the cynic; he lived with a genuine, heart-felt, unapologetic commitment to his ideals and he delighted in it! I remember SCM discussions when his hearty laughter filled the room, with his delight at new ideas and lively discussion, as well as his pleasure in the company of those around him. And, in turn, it was a pleasure for me to be in his company.
Murray also shared himself and his pain very willingly. I remember very vividly his descriptions of his struggles with mental health problems; in particular he described to me how one day he had reached such a low that he could do little else but crawl around the back lawn picking out weeds. That image showed a unique vulnerability which touched my heart; Murray's willingness to share that image also showed a deep and abiding strength of character.
In the weeks before I went out bush, after leaving SCM, I met with Murray as a kind of preparation. During our meeting, he introduced me to the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh. He gave me a copy of "The Miracle of Mindfulness", a book that changed my life perhaps more than any other. In turn, it has changed the life of Katie, when I bought her a copy some years later. Katie's father has subsequently received much comfort from Thich Nhat Hanh. I've no doubt that Murray's loving actions will ripple out for many years to come, changing people's lives for the better.
I don't want to turn this letter into a hagiography of Murray - I'm sure he would detest that more than any one else, but my memories and loving feelings are strong and very real. I remember an SCM discussion about men, in which Murrary participated, when we concluded that the best we could ever hope to be was a "wise old fool". This was the path of largest heart, of greatest love. Murray walked that path, I think, and I hope that I too will follow in his footsteps as I grow older.