Today we are about important human business. Alexander Trowbridge, a good and gracious man, who lived a long, full life of significant accomplishment, has died. And so we have gathered for essential work: to remember him; to give thanks for all the vitality and aliveness his life brought forth; and to give him back in gratitude and hope to the One who called him into life.
These are the duties that Emily Dickinson talked about in one of her poems:
The Bustle in a house
The Morning after Death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted upon Earth —
The Sweeping up the Heart
And putting Love away
We shall not want to use again
When families and friends gather for their part in sweeping up the heart as we are doing today, there are memories aplenty. Sandy Trowbridge’s family and friends are unanimous in their honoring a kind, gentle, wonderfully alive man. “A man without guile,” was a phrase I heard. A man full of energy and enthusiasm. A great friend.
He was an accomplished leader in government and industry. His was a way of conciliation and compromise, bringing people together to make things happen—an approach to leadership not so common in the Washington we inhabit today. But as we have heard today it was that very spirit that made possible important achievements in the companies and organizations Sandy led.
I was struck in my conversation with Ellie by her constant note of joy and thanksgiving in talking about Sandy. Especially in his later years Sandy had the time for his family, and he delighted in being with his and Ellie’s children and their nine grand-children.
And so one key piece of our business today is simply to offer our thanks to the Great Giver of Life, who calls us into life and gives us a few brief years on this mortal coil, and then receives us back at the end. A good life, a devoted family, an abundance of friends—there is much to be thankful for.
I was struck by a line from a book written by Sandy’s theologian father, which comes from the passage read by Stephen today. “Surely we stand always in the presence of God and need not think that we enter into eternal life for the first time at the moment mortal life ceases.” In fact in John’s gospel Jesus kept saying that eternal life is something we experience here and now—in times of joy and delight, of healing and forgiveness, of love and friendship, of hope and even endurance. All the time, here and now, we are touching the garment of immortality, of God’s presence in our lives. Sandy clearly tasted God’s eternity aplenty here and now.
Maybe that’s why he and Ellie, with their different religious backgrounds, still would make their way over to St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church on Connecticut Avenue, or up to this Cathedral, to sing and pray and give thanks in the presence of this great Mystery of love. Ellie said that this highly accomplished man of the world would often tear up in church, and especially during the hymns. It seems as if sometimes at least he knew how close eternity is, how close God is.
Now Sandy is fully in God’s presence. But the journey to get there hasn’t been easy. Over the course of seven years of increasing dementia, a man of strength and dignity slowly sank into a darkening world of dependency, isolation, and grief. It has been a terrible journey for him, for Ellie, and for all their family—to find the person they love gradually, excruciatingly, slipping away, while yet the body of the one they love lingers on.
Part of the thanksgiving of this day has to be for Ellie’s long endurance and faithfulness by Sandy’s side, and with thanks too to the caregivers, friends, and family members who cared for Sandy and for Ellie. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community, a village of friends and supporters, to go through sickness, loss and death. Sandy and Ellie had an abundance of love and support. Thanks be to God for that.
For some death comes quickly, even abruptly. But some journeys into the mystery of death go on a long time. It’s those journeys that St. Paul seems to be speaking to in the words we heard a few minutes ago.
Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen, but what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
Sandy’s outer nature was wasting away over these past years. But the hope and promise is that in the midst of what looked like a long, sad dying, his own life and spirit were being prepared for the new journey on which he is now embarked. “We have a building from God,” St. Paul says, “a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
Now Sandy has entered into eternity, into life with God. We have no adequate images or pictures for this, only the trust that who Sandy was—his bright, luminous human spirit, his loves and delights, all that made him the one-of-a-kind creature he was—now lives on in God.
So let us praise God this day, for a bright, good, grace-filled life filled with joy and accomplishment, as well as its own share of disappointment and sorrow. Let us thank God for the love Ellie and Sandy shared, and for the faithfulness and love of family and friends in Sandy’s long journey out of this world.
Now the struggle is over, and Sandy is released. May light perpetual shine upon him.