Updated: Sep 12, 2019
I’m going to die someday. I don’t know when. If I die tomorrow, will people lie and say how amazing I was? What an impact I had on their life? How I was happy-go-lucky, always having a positive word in the darkest of times?
Death is strange like that. How it’s like we have this unwritten agreement with each other to only talk about the best, or exaggerate the good, in those who are no longer with us. I don’t know, maybe there’s something appropriate in that.
There was this guy though, that when he passed and people gathered, they didn’t lie. They didn’t dwell on his faults, that’s not what I’m saying, though they did point out he wasn’t perfect. But as the mic moved from one person to the next, they all painted a different piece of a portrait that was downright inspiring, and also one hundred percent true.
Tony McDuffy was not one in a million. He was one of one. He was of the people. He spoke truth and love to everyone. He was respected by the dude on the corner selling weed, and the dude’s grandma, and everyone in between. He touched your soul when he spoke. There were times when the heavens opened up, filled his lungs with words, and he said things that only God himself could possibly know. He said these things to me, and to her and to him and to them. It happened at church. On some random sidewalk not from the North End. On someone’s front porch. In a living room. The words came. For me. For them. Sometimes I cried. Sometimes they cried. Sometimes I just kept it in mind, holding on to a word of hope during a time when it was sorely needed. Someone saw me. Saw us. Someone knew, without me telling them anything, exactly what I needed to hear.
That man spoke the truth to people. He used to break out this story at super random times, and it didn’t matter who was around. I would cringe. “Remember when we was at day camp and you started yelling at me, like ‘Tony, where’s the water? These kids are dying!’” Umm, that was like almost twenty years ago, Tony. But of course I remembered. He wouldn’t let me forget. I was about twenty years old, trying to help facilitate the soccer day camp program with hundreds of kids running around a scorched earth field zero available shade in ninety plus degree weather. They were hot and thirsty and miserable. I was hot and thirsty and miserable. And, as it turned out, I discovered that I kinda suck at dealing with kids.
He loved bringing that story up though, year after year, always with the same grin and laughter and amusement. It took me way too long to understand the story. I was kind of a punk when he met me. A bit of a know-it-all, entitled, spoiled kid. Now I’m a bit less of all of those things. That story was his way of reminding me, “You’ve come a long way.” It was an encouragement. It was also a “But don’t forget where you came from” type of reminder too. All of it, was good for my soul.
When people met at that church to celebrate that man, to share memories of him cracking mama jokes and dropping off food at your house and delivering the words of heaven, my thoughts, though filled with sorrow, focused on one singular thing: “I want to have an impact like that man, Pastor Tony.”
I want my daughter to be able to say, as his did, that her daddy believed in her. Saw the greatness in her, reminded her of the greatness, always. I want to put my phone down and be present with whoever is right in front of me, for however long, so they know that they are heard, and they are important, and they are loved. And when I ask people how they’re doing, I want it to be more than just a phrase, but I want to actually care, to actually love them for who they are.
That man on that day was honored. That man can never be replaced. That man, though, has left an impact on thousands of people around him, with his smile, with his jokes, with his praying hands, with his words from heaven. Those people. Us. We would do well to take a little piece of what he has given, to take a shadow of his example, and put it into practice.
There will never be another Tony McDuffy. He was one of one. In 48202, there is a huge void. It will not be filled. But hopefully his legacy will live on a little bit in each one that his life touched. When I die. When you die. Maybe we will have taken a piece of him and made it our own. He would be honored by that I think.
P.S. - Just to keep it well-rounded I would like to say that I would be dead now if my life depended upon Tony being somewhere at the time we agreed upon. That used to irritate the whiteness out of me. With his passing though, he was early. Way too early. Wish he would’ve stuck to his usual habits. Wish I wouldn’t have taken him for granted. SMH. All we have is now.