A Wild One

Our dear sailing friend Len died several weeks ago. He was sixty years young. At his memorial service, my husband said Len was the most beautifully complex contradiction of a human he had ever known. More insecure, more bold, more obstinate, more open, more brilliant, more foolish, more connected to death, and more alive to the resurrection than anyone we have ever known.

Len and his wife Sheri led pack horse trips into the Cascade Mountains in Washington State after they married right out of high school. He was a cowboy, a chef, a brilliant designer of commercial kitchens, a tender husband, father, and grandfather. He was a man who got his hands dirty every day in the Kingdom labor of helping people find their way through the dark domain of addiction, homelessness, heartache, and despair. He and Sheri were made for one another. There was nothing that he and Sheri could not do! They were among the most brilliant couples we have ever had the privilege to know. Len was a wild one and his most passionate joy was to introduce people to Jesus Christ. 

We were once with Len and Sheri and our other dear sailing friends, Mark and Debi, La Jean and David, ten miles from the Burma border in the jungles of Thailand. We were building a boarding school for the Hill Tribe children of the Karen people in Burma. We were in a “Conga line” passing heavy concrete masonry blocks when a venomous snake crawled out of a block onto Len’s hand! As we stood frozen in fear, he shook it to the ground, laughing like he had just found baby Jesus in the king cake at Mardi Gras. Len was a wild one.

I loved Len, but there is a high cost to being wild. I am more normal, regulated, predictable, and balanced. When Jesus asks us to pray “Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven” and to imagine what that might look like, it’s too much for me to imagine.

Certainly, it invites us to live a life that involves mockery of death, which is what I like avoiding at all costs! I sometimes have stood silent to avoid conflict. Being quiet is safe and cowardly. Len loved Jesus with abandon. I don’t think he was ever quiet or safe.

Henri Nouwen’s book Life of the Beloved has four chapters; the fourth is entitled, “Given.” The premise of this chapter is that the final gift we give our family and our friends is our death. He writes, “It is only when we have died that our spirits can completely reveal themselves.” I did not grow up in the tradition which orthodoxy holds space for the dead as Nouwen infers, but I treasure the words that he wrote to his friend:

Within a few years, we both will be buried or cremated. The houses in which we live will probably still be there, but someone else will live there and most likely know little or nothing about us. But I believe, and I hope you will too, that our brief, easily forgotten journey in this world will continue to give life to people through all times and places. The spirit of love, once freed from our mortal bodies, will blow where it will, even when few will hear its coming and going. (p.124-125)

At 71 years of age, the impulse to pull back and lower my expectations is a reasonable desire after risking our living in ministry in the church and in a startup graduate school. Going without regular paychecks and healthcare was scary enough. Far more, the loss of friendships and criticism has taken its toll. I am left teetering between entering the fray or slipping out the door.

Len was a stubborn man. He didn’t gauge his value in paychecks and healthcare. He saw homeless people and knew they needed help. His heart for the addicted and mentally ill weighed heavy on his heart. His belief that Jesus came to save the weak, addicted, homeless, and brokenhearted was his daily bread. 

Days before his death Sheri and a friend urged him to go to the hospital due to symptoms that are a prelude to a heart attack. He refused. He was busy. Dammit. On one hand, I am so angry he didn’t take care of himself. On the other, I laud his passion. There is no way out of the bind.

I am too close to grief to have insight how Len’s death might change me. But I can feel the breeze and the fragrant smell of his life, and I know deep in my bones I can’t escape the bind of love.

Leonard Bruce Bundy
June 8, 1962 – March 11, 2023

Originally published in Red Tent Living on May 1, 2023