Bang the Drum Slowly

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Our good friend and brother in Christ, Carrol Bryant, passed away yesterday afternoon at home with his wife Anne and son Marty in attendance. He had fought the good fight for over a year and chose to go home in the presence of those he loved.
We have known the Bryants since 1990. I first met Carrol on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. No, we weren’t partying or drinking anything stronger than ice tea. We were attending the annual Baptist convention, and the conservative powers that be had made sure that all the “moderates” (or, in my case, the  “liberals”) were put in hotels on one of the most decadent streets in the world. As Becky and I walked along, I was thinking I was seeing some things done in public that I had never seen before and really didn’t want to. Then, someone called Becky’s name. We looked all around us but couldn’t find the who had called her name. We finally located the source: Carrol and Anne were on the balcony of a room on the fourth floor. Now it occurs to me that this unique way of meeting someone was suited to one of the most original people I have ever known.
After that, I saw Carrol innumerable times at church. He was a rare mixture of vision and practicality. He staged wonderful meals for church volunteers.We worked together putting in doors after the When the church acquired Marsteller Middle School in 2002, I worked with Carrol and some other men to install new doors throughout the building. He taught me the right size nail or screw to use in different situations, and he taught me how to chisel mortises for the hinges, which I had never been able to do. I learned many other lessons and values from him during the fifteen-plus years we taught a Sunday School class together. Before class, he roamed the building, looking for visitors and anyone else who looked lost or seemed like they needed a place to be. He encouraged me greatly, and some of my best memories from that time are the thoughts and observations he shared with us–always thoughtful, always concise, always practical.
Carrol shared stories about growing up near Lynchburg. One time he had money for bus fare to a scout meeting, but spent it on food. He had to walk a considerable distance home. He would disappear for days hunting, fishing and hiking, finding renewal and rest in the woods and streams of the countryside.
Born near the end of the Great Depression, he retained values of thrift and economy he learned during those hard times. He used the back of junk mail flyers to make notes for his talks for Sunday School, and kept a bin full of tools for students to select from on their birthdays. I still use the tape measure, voltage tester and nylon line from my birthdays for the past three years, and think of him every time I do.
He told me about the first time he saw me in church. I was playing guitar, and he said, “I thought, this fellow plays OK, but he ain’t no Johnny Cash.” For years I have laughed about that comment every time I think about it.
To say he will be missed is to make a huge understatement. I will miss his broad smile and ready wit. We were and unlikely pair: we came from two different worlds. In fact, our students called us “the hippie and the Marine” because I was in college in the ’60’s (I told them you couldn’t be a hippie AND a college student) and he was stationed at the Pentagon at that time. In spite of this, we made a deep and meaningful  connection. He told me he was glad he didn’t run over any hippies while driving to work because one of them might have been me! He was a DI and passed on the wisdom he had gained training thousands of young men. He frequently told the class, “You are responsible for your actions,” urging them to be accountable for their words, thoughts and deeds.
Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends. He was one of a kind, and a bright star in our firmament.
With his passing, I thought of Shakespeare’s words from “Romeo and Juliet”:
When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.
Bright new stars now adorn our night skies.
Rest in peace, Marine.
Semper fi.
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