Haven’t we heard this story before? A gentle and Spirit-imbued man, a traveler, a stranger, by his powerful yet graceful presence, shakes things up, challenges the complacent and the easeful, but then dies much too soon.
For me, Elphas Wambani was such a man. (And Elphas would roar at being paired with You Know Who!)
A Quaker from Kenya, Elphas had come to this country a few years ago to study at Episcopal Divinity School—and, although his Kenyan Quaker/FUM tradition was decidedly programmed, to worship at decidedly unprogrammed Friends Meeting at Cambridge.
From the very first time I met him, Elphas pushed my “I’m not doing enough; I should be. . . ” button: Enormous pain about his country, its AIDs epidemic, and how little I have done, how unfair it is that I have so much; you know, the usual White American Woman’s Guilt.
At his memorial on Saturday, a gathering for EDS and FMC folks, I reflected on that disquiet: And I think it’s because he was so gentle, so loving, such a man of faith, that I couldn’t discount his witness. His presence keenly reminded me: Yes, Patricia, there is a Kenya. And a Bangladesh. And a . . . Had he been a hectoring, rhetoric-spouting guy, had he been angry or unpleasant, how easy it would have been to not allow myself to acknowledge his reality. And my own.
Tragically, Elphas died in his sleep this summer at age fifty-four, after returning to Kenya. Such a loss. So unfair.
But there is such joy to be reminded that, yes, gentle and loving are so powerful they can change the world. Because, yes, we have heard this story before.