My uncle died yesterday. Leukemia ultimately leading to organ failure and death. My Mom's younger brother who I was named after. I find myself with mixed feelings today. Sad, yes. Regrets, too.
When I was in third grade, he came to live with us for a time. We had so much fun. He had a wild sense of humor. We spent time making model rockets and shooting them off into blue skies over a big field near my house. We drove around and talked. Went swimming and generally had a good time. when I was eight years old, he "found Jesus". I recall the day he cornered me in his car and told me that I "had to ask Jesus into my heart or I would go to Hell". He told my mom she'd go to Hell if she didn't go to his church, instead of hers. He seemed very angry and urgent. He scared me. He lost his ability to laugh and have fun for a long time.
As I got older, we still spent time together. He married, began to raise two sons. When I was with them, I saw how they tied their version of Christianity in with hatred of "fags, spics, and niggers". I felt like Christianity was false. I based it on this, to a large degree and also my own experience at my church, where the minister was very friendly to the rich people in the church, but couldn't manage to even say hello to my mom in the grocery store. So it's not fair to blame my uncle for my rejection, at the time, of organized religion of all types, especially Christianity.
That all started to change for me when I traveled to Nicaragua with Witness for Peace in 1987 and saw liberation theology. Christianity combined with active social change in the present. Not some heavenly reward after you were dead. But I stopped talking with my uncle and his family. As I re-examined my spiritual self on my personal journey, I came to understand things differently. Among other things, I learned that there were many Christians who did try to live in a Christian manner. But I stil didn't talk with my uncle. I began attending Quaker Meeting 15 years ago and my relationship with God evolved into a challenging but comfortable relationship. I had a clearer understanding of God. I became better able to look at other religions with out such judgement. I stil fear the combination of religion with hatred. But I know in my heart that those folks are humans, too. Perhaps they are scared, seeking refuge in religion against the world. I don't know for sure. It's surely much more complex than that.
But, when I heard my uncle had been diagnosed with leukemia 5 years ago, I STILL did not contact him. Oh, I had my reasons. My personal life was in a mess, but I stayed away. Maybe I was scared. Maybe that 8 year old boy was still scared and angry.
Today I feel sad that I didn't contact him to at least say good bye. This is my regret. It could have been very different. There could have been healing for both of us. What was I afraid of? Was I hiding behind some false pride? I don't know but will reflect on this.