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The God Sqaud: Farewell to a dear friend

The great American poet Mary Oliver wrote,

“To live in this world you must be able to do three things:

To love what is mortal;

To hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it;

And, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”

It is time to let Tom Hartman go, but not before we pray together that his soul might discover the best way to Heaven, and that we might discover the best way to survive our deep and inconsolable grief at the loss of such a luminous life.

My eulogy for my dear friend is not for us. We do not need to have Tommy’s life neatly summarized and piously lauded. Knowing Tommy was like watching a diamond turn in the light. Each of us was privileged to see one or another facet of his holy life reflected into the world to bedazzle us with its love and kindness, its compassion and generosity, its sacrifice and its secrets.

Our friendship produced many words but it never needed words. I once asked a woman who loved a speech we had just given what she liked most. She replied, “Honestly, I don’t remember anything you said. All I remember is how he looked at you when you were speaking, and how you looked at him when he was speaking.” That woman knew what we were doing more than we knew what we were doing.

No, my eulogy is for the angels in Heaven. I want them to understand how to take care of Tommy’s soul.

Dear Angels,

You have just received the soul of my friend Monsignor Thomas John Hartman, but he prefers it if you just call him Tommy. This is what you most need to know ...

Tommy will need to wander off. He will need to find a way to be with those poor souls who did not make it to Heaven – mainly lawyers but not only lawyers – also golfers. He will need to remind them that there is still some spark of God’s image burning brightly within them. Even if that spark has been buried under the dross of sin and weakness, Tommy can make them feel that they are loved and valued and embraced. One day I called him and woke him, which was strange because he usually called me very early every morning after Mass with the unwelcome but cheery greeting, “Is this the great Rabbi Dr. Marc Gellman?” And I, in my humility, would reply, “Yes it is.” But that morning he had slept in because he had driven to Albany from Long Island the previous night to stop a young man from committing suicide. I said, “You must have known him very well.” He said, “I didn’t know him at all. He just found my number and called me.” Tom Hartman drove to Albany to help a total stranger find a measure of hope that had eluded him. All the good things Tom Hartman did in his life will never be known. At a time when AIDS and homosexuality were still deep social taboos, Tommy built Christa House, in memory of his brother Jerry, whose soul you have already embraced. Christa House was the first AIDS hospice ever built on church property in America. He also helped build Island Harvest so that wonderful food that was to be discarded could be gathered and fed to hungry souls who thought it was their fate to have to eat garbage. Tommy will need to wander off.

Oh, and if you don’t have a television station in Heaven, you will have one soon.

Finally, dear angels in heaven, I ask you to let Tommy talk to me occasionally. I know you and the Boss take a dim view of dead people talking to living people, and, truth be told, so do I, but Tommy believed that the boundary and barrier between life and life after death was neither ultimate nor impenetrable. And so, some day I just want to be able to say out loud, “I am Rabbi Marc Gellman” and then I want to be able to hear him say to me in his soft and healing voice, “And I am Father Tom Hartman and we are – the God Squad.” Amen.