I could remember him from pictures of his Oxford days. My favorite shows him punting with a lovely blond looking relaxed and happy.
I could remember him from his book on Romany magic, a fascinating read that changed my view of the “gypsies” forever.
I will not remember him spat on and harassed by college students for his faith.
There is no need for those he helped, including me, to remember his endless acts of kindness and courtly behavior. If it is the mark of a gentleman to make even the barbarian feel at ease, then he was a gentleman. He fought corruption nationally and dined with primates and dignitaries, but somehow when he served me pizza on colonial era china it was fun and right.
Instead, I will remember him today, the anniversary of his death, as he was when he died. He was not handsome anymore, far from it. Parkinson, stress induced from persecution, had crippled him and his limbs were bent. He had worried most about the effect of his suffering on the rest of us, but now he was past worry.
The night before he died six years ago, my family visited him and at first were not sure he knew we were there. We sang his favorite hymns and he responded at last. Godly children, his spiritual grandchildren, lightened the darkness for one moment that was filming those piercing eyes. The last Cavalier could no longer lead a charge, but his eyes could still twinkle.
Finally, we had to go. I knew, it wasn’t a gift to know, that I would never see him again, this man, this scholar, this gentleman, this Cavalier, my priest. I asked him, “Pray Father a blessing.”
And slowly his hands came together. It was so slow I was not sure what was happening until clearly, as clearly as the bells of our parish of Saint Michael, he said, “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. Amen.” He signed us, not even slowly, with the sign of the Cross and then we left.
I have little more to say, but this one thing. When I die, as I shall, I hope to God that all that is left to me is the muscle memory of the sign of the cross. I hope to God that the last clear words I say to a spiritual son are the words he longs to hear. I want to live as he lived, but I would rather die as he died. It is much harder and is much greater.
Father Michael Trigg, martyr and scholar, rest in peace.