Robert Wears was my friend.
I am sorry, I know most of you called him “Bob,” but I met him through his wife Diane, and to me he was always “Robert.” With my wife Katherine, we four were members of a book club for the last 20-plus years. We have met more or less monthly, and read well over 200 books together.
I did not know him in his professional life, I was not a member of his family, we shared no school ties, we did not go to the same church. I interacted with him medically only once, and in that moment, as he visited me in the hospital before my abdominal surgery, he gave me permission and I threw up on him.
On reflection, we went together once each to a football game, a baseball game and a symphony. We had a handful of meals together.
No, I knew Robert mainly through books and discussions of books.
A book club has to have a way of getting books and early on we decided that the one rule was that the person who proposed a book had to have already read it and be willing to recommend it and thus read it again with the group. Then we would vote on the offerings.
Robert brought a lot of Shakespeare, and more than a few difficult Russian novels. He brought Flatland, by Edwin Abbott, which concerns the “adventures” of a two-dimensional being. He brought The Inferno, Dante’s classic imaginative poem about a journey through hell. He persuaded us to read Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, Lynne Truss’ work on the importance of punctuation.
He often brought books to our book choosing event of an idiosyncratic bent. I well recall a book which Robert brought which was not selected by the group. He extolled the virtues of the book, explaining that indeed it had changed his life, but the group was unpersuaded. It was another classic of topology, this time Fink and Mao’s The 85 Ways to Tie a Tie. For some reason the group was disinclined to take it up.
We read Shakespeare, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, and Harper Lee together. We discussed C.S. Lewis, Jane Austen, Isak Dinesen and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. We wrestled with The Aeneid, Beowulf and The Inferno. It turns out that you can develop quite an understanding of someone when you have tried to explain why you think Straight Man is funny or why you think The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is not.
Robert was a thinker, not a blurter. He was not at book club to offer a lecture. He did not need to hear himself talk. But . . . .
If you could get him to talk, you would want to listen.
Robert was a man to be listened to.
He was well read — the kind of person who knew a lot about almost anything that might come up.
Robert was a teacher. He did not need to show you his knowledge, but it was there if you were inclined to be taught.
Robert was a thoughtful man. He was willing to let evidence lead him to his conclusions.
Robert was an open man. He would listen and he was always willing to consider new evidence.
Robert was a tolerant man. Unlike some, he did not mind if you disagreed with him. He could interact with what you said without needing to prove you wrong or make you feel foolish. As someone once wrote about a brilliant friend
He is not smart to make you feel stupid, he is smart to make you smart as well.
Neil Gaiman, “How to Read Gene Wolfe,” The View from the Cheap Seats.
Robert was an honest man. He did not take positions to make others around him comfortable. He took them based on the evidence he had seen.
— ♦ —
We are here in a Christian church — the Christian church which Robert regularly attended at the end of his life, though he did not know it would be the end.
When I first met him, I knew him to be a skeptic. So how can I explain this setting?
Robert had come to our discussion of Robert Bolt’s marvelous play “A Man for all Seasons.”
The play is about a statesman — Thomas More — who could not bring himself to be dishonest even when it was expedient. Because he would not lie for the king, he would lose his life by the king’s order.
In the play, when the trial is over and the judgment pronounced, More’s daughter embraces him in tears, and he says
Have patience, Margaret, and trouble not thyself. Death comes for us all; even at our birth—even at our birth, death does but stand aside a little. And every day he looks towards us and muses somewhat to himself whether that day or the next he will draw nigh. It is the law of nature and the will of God.
In the end, I believe, Robert Wears was a man who knew well both “the law of nature and the will of God.”
I believe that Robert saw the evidence of the lives of the believers around him, particularly the evidence of Diane’s life, and that evidence led us to this place.
Robert would have loved the irony in the fact that I would draw on the story of Thomas More and Henry VIII in the setting of an Anglican church. But Robert would also appreciate that
we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
God called to that in Robert Lewis Wears which God had made for his own glory: Robert’s thoughtfulness, his tolerance, his honesty.
On Sunday it was God who called him home, and today it is God who offers comfort to us all.
Robert Lewis Wears. We will not find another to stand in his stead, but we are grateful to have known him for this time.
July 20, 2017
Grace Anglican Church