He was undergoing cancer treatment, but his prognosis was good. I spoke to him a week or so before he died and he sounded great. One person who spoke to him the day before he died said he sounded great, very upbeat and eager to get back to work at Cornell where he was Catholic Chaplain for the last eight years. Last Tuesday morning, while in the hospital for treatment, he developed a stomach hemorrhage very suddenly and essentially he bled to death. He was 78.
It was such a shock. There is so much left unsaid, so many conversations now that will not happen.I met Bob when I was twenty--forty years ago this summer--and it was one of those meetings that change a life. He opened up for me in more ways than I can adequately explain the deeper layers and sources from which any kind of true faith springs.
I wrote this last week in remembrance of him:
Bob was a mensch. His great gift was the way he was the in-between man, living creatively in the ill-defined spaces between the more solid and often contradictory things of our everyday life. He was an institutional man who never fit comfortably in the institution. He was a man of prayer and a man of doubt, a man of deep traditional piety and a man with modernist, frequently absurdist sensibilities. He could hang with the scientists and he could hang with the mystics. He was not a scientist, nor was he a mystic, but his life was the stuff out which connections between the two become realized. He was equally delighted by the simple and wholesome as he found hilarious the crazy and bizarre. Because he all this reflected in himself, in his own nature as someone who was not over against but who was embedded with and a deep participant in the different patchwork worlds in which he and the rest of us live.
He was himself a man of deep integrity and yet his integrity lay in this special quality of in-betweenness. It was as if the substance of the man was to fill the gaps between the separations; he was a mercury man, the one who flowed in the empty spaces and made connections where there seemed little or no reason for them. He could do it so well because he lived in the spaces in-between, never too comfortable where more ordinary people seek comfort. And yet he was the one with whom everyone felt comfortable, who had this knack to bring out what was best and most interesting in everyone he met. He was a lovely man, a gracious man, a mensch.
And he was a sacramental man in that in-between sense that sacraments have, being neither here nor there but both completely here and there, incarnate and transcendent. He made the connections because his soul stuff was in an unusual way the connective material out which deep, lasting connections become possible As such he incarnated in a unique way (in my experience), or perhaps more accurately he was an infusion point for that grace that seeks to burst into our lives if only we would let it. To let Bob into your life was to let that grace work, and work it did. He made it easy.
His life gave us an experience of the communion of saints peculiar to this time of fragmentation and transition. His life was the stuff out of which that communion becomes a possibility, a lived experience for so many for whom easy connections, given connections, automatic and natural connections were not a possibility because disconnection, breakup, estrangement, polarization, loss, compose so much of the texture of our daily lives. His life was in this sense a sacrament of connection, of communion. He was in the end the man of communion, his life pointing us to possibilities for our own, of living a deep participation in that mysterious grace that becomes so concrete, so real in a life faithfully and generously lived. I will miss him terribly.
I doubt Bob knew where his burial plot was because it was owned by the Diocese of Rockville Center on Long Island. It's at Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury, and not fifteen feet away from where Bob is buried now is the grave of William Casey, the CIA Director during the Reagan administration. Even in death making improbable connections.
Photo taken from an article in the Cornell Chronicle written about him here.