How can you know so little about a person you love so much?
I sat in Dan Brokaw's office on Friday afternoon and pondered that very question -- after I had dried my tears.
Dan Brokaw became the minister of music at the Conyers First United Methodist Church in May of 1978. That was more than 34 years ago. Do you realize how long 34 years is? Do you know how few people work at the same job for that long? The feat is even more remarkable when you consider that the job is one in ministry, because ministers have the opportunity to rub a lot of people the wrong way after more than three decades.
Sadly, I speak of Dan in the past tense today. He was stricken Thursday with a heart attack and died en route to Emory University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 7:45 p.m. I couldn't have been more shocked, when the phone call came informing me of Dan's death if I had been told of my own demise -- or more saddened.
I have known Dan for about 30 of those 34 years. I have admired his magnificent choirs, from afar and up close, for three decades. As much as I admired the music, I admired the man even more. He was truly a minister to the thousands of people whose lives he has touched.
I have heard Dan stories all day. Caroline Ingle St. John regaled me with stories of her days in the children's choir at Conyers. She said that she and Case Thorpe, who was Casey at the time, and others, would do things for Mr. Dan that they would not do for any other human being. And she told me that while she was at Emory University Hospital for a year, doing battle with leukemia, that Dan came to see her every day. I didn't say every week. I said every day.
While I was fighting my own battle last year, every time I went to the local hospital for a test or a treatment, Dan was there checking on me. Understand that I was not a member of his church at the time. It mattered not one wit to Dan Brokaw. He knew that I needed support and he was there to provide it.
I came to the church Friday afternoon in search of information about Dan's life. I knew so little, really. I did not know where he was raised or where he went to school or any of the "important stuff" friends should know about one another. I walked into his office, looking for clues -- but I didn't find any. Not about Dan.
Actually, I take that back. I found out a lot about Dan by walking into his office, because there was virtually nothing in his office that called attention to himself. Everything in Dan Brokaw's office spoke to his love of his Lord, Jesus Christ, and his love of and service to other people.
I learned for instance that Dan was a collector. Almost 100 decorated crosses, of all shapes and descriptions, adorn a corner of his personal space. The largest one hangs over the only window in the room and has a message inscribed from the book of Psalms -- which is appropriate. "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord."
He collected miniatures, too. There is a bookcase filled with them -- Jesus teaching the children, angels celebrating the nativity, Jesus healing the sick. Jesus teaching the disciples.
Dan's desk and every square inch of counter space were filled with little notes -- notes about people he needed to visit in the hospital, notes about people he needed to pray for, notes about people who were sick at home, notes about people who needed a card or letter sent their way. My name was on one of the notes. There wasn't a single note that I could find about taking care of Dan.
His calendar was filled with notations about choir practices that he will not supervise and Christmas cantatas that he will not lead. His glasses were on his desk, atop a list of things to be done before the church services this Sunday. I assume those things will get done, but not by Dan.
There was a photograph on Dan's desk -- a recent portrait of him with his adopted family, Jon and Cindy Pignolet and their children. I'm not sure who adopted whom but I do know that the love was mutual.
I was reminded of how fleeting life can be, that none of us are promised tomorrow and that each of us needs to be ready when our turn comes.
I was comforted by my certainty that Dan was ready when his time came and that today he is singing praises to his God with an angel choir that is possibly more glorious, even, than that of Conyers First. I was saddened by the fact that I will miss Dan so much. I wish I had known more about him. But, then again, I suppose I knew everything I really needed to know, because he lived his faith walk, he didn't talk spend much time talking about it.
My life has been fuller because Dan Brokaw has been a part of it. Can I get a witness?
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.