I remember today the people I've loved and lost to death - particularly my father, Jim Munroe, who passed away suddenly when he was 55 and I was 26. I am so thankful to have had him in my life for 26 years and miss him terribly every day. I wish he could have met his grandkids- my son would have loved him. But- I have faith that death isn't the end.... the big punchline is waiting - eternal life with God - something to laugh and rejoice about. Death, where is thy sting?
The story starts in Cary, Illinois. A typical small town with typical small town things- and that’s where my family lived for several years until my dad was transferred and we moved to Massachusetts. While the entire family struggled with the move, I have to say it was my brother- a high school sophomore – who struggled the most. He left behind some wonderful friends in Illinois. When we settled in even smaller town Spencer Massachusetts – Dan was an outsider and he was treated as such. But maybe the blessing of this is that he always knew the world was much larger than Spencer- bigger than Massachusetts. And so he kept in touch with his friends back in Illinois- and this, by the by- was before the internet.
When he was in college he was invited to meet up with two of his friends, Angela and Nicole in New York City because Angela’s brother, Kevin Marcum, was playing the role of Old Deuteronomy in Cats on Broadway. My parents were less than thrilled about my brother heading off to NYC with two girls but – hey - he was 19 and they would be staying with Kevin at his apartment and get to go backstage and all that exciting stuff- so off Daniel went on his adventure to the Big Apple.
Meanwhile- the theatrical one- ME - was left behind – the way younger siblings often are- I was insane with jealousy. After that experience, Dan kept in touch with Kevin and really looked up to him as a role model. Kevin attended the University of Illinois and headed off to New York with next to nothing and BOOM (not to negate the work I’m sure he did- ) but his rise on Broadway was fairly meteoric . After being cast in Cats, Kevin landed a role in Les Miserables and was the understudy for Colm Wilkenson, who played Jean Valjean. Kevin’s success was an inspiration to my brother. Not that he was interested in theatre – but the fact that Kevin set his mind to something and did it- impressed the heck out of Dan. What impressed the heck out of my parents is that Kevin sent tickets for them and my brother to see Les Miserables at a special benefit performance and not only were the seats great- they were only 4 seats away from Walter Cronkite. Then they got to go backstage and hang out with Kevin and – hey! - is that Rhoda? Yes, yes it was. Valarie Harper was standing next to my mom.... or so I was told because I was again left behind the way younger siblings are... not that I’m bitter or anything......
Kevin was to take over the lead in the musical after Colm Wilkinson moved on to other things. Kevin’s star was on the rise. And then...and then.... he died. This is, of course, tragic, - the loss of someone so young and talented. It is also a tragedy because Kevin died at age 31 of a cocaine overdose. So, I watched it all unfold from a slight distance- the way that younger siblings do. It wasn’t my experience. It wasn’t my pain. I was sheltered from it and yet I could tell that for my brother the grief was real.
Why, you might be asking, Why would Rev. Jen tell us this story on All Saints? What does the story of an actor’s drug overdose have to do with the Great cloud of witnesses of our faith?
How do you reconcile that kind of death with that kind of life? What is the give and take here? What would you tell a 19 year old? Do you encourage remembrances of the generosity of tickets and back stage tours and nights staying up in his apartment chatting about life? Do you take away the lesson that drugs are bad and addictive and what kind of idiot would be so careless as to OD weeks – weeks before he was due to play the role of his life? How do you take the measure a person? Kevin Marcum – actor, singer, drug user? Or Kevin Marcum saint of God – and one member of the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds my brother?
We sing our songs of the saints of God, faithful their whole lives through- except when they weren’t because they were human. We remember the ones who have gone on before us into God’s eternal light and we remember that everyone is both saint and sinner. We sing our songs and remember that we are not perfect people and when we leave this life we will most likely be (hopefully) remembered for our acts of generosity and kindness as well as our mistakes and failures. And that is as it should be- because we are real people – genuine mixtures of saint and sinner – genuine wrestlers of angels and devils. We are simply, authentically and utterly ourselves.
We come together today remembering the saints who have gone before us- the ones we loved and knew and taught us about life and faith...the ones who had some indistinct influence on our faith from a distance, the ones we’d rather have avoided, if it’s all the same to you, thank you very much. We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses. Kevin, by his death taught my brother that cocaine is dangerous. That even the best people can have vices and that death is real and grief hurts. And Kevin, by his life shared, taught my brother a lesson in following dreams. He taught him how to hail a cab in Manhattan. He taught him a lesson in generosity and compassion. He taught him that fame is not everything and family means more.
I shared this sermon with my brother and he asked to add one final piece- he wrote to me:
Jen, I don't think I ever told you this, but where cocaine was readily abundant in college and law school. Many all of my friends did lines from time to time. I never tried coke, heroin, ecstasy, speed, pot or any other drug. Whenever I was offered, and it was more than you might imagine, I thought about Kevin, the meaning of his life, that I'm sure he never meant to OD, and just refused.
When I became a District Attorney, I saw first had the addictive nature of coke and from time to time wondered, with my Type A personality, whether if I had done one line if that would have turned into two, then three, then on and on. So, at least for me, Kevin’s life also represented total abstinence from drugs. One heck of a guy. Wish you could have met him. The last thing he said to me was Dan. never give up on your dream. Enough said.
We sing our songs of the saints of God, and we sing for each other with prayerful hope that we might be found to be saints and I sing for the Kevin in my life who might just have saved my brother from a prison of drug addiction, and we sing for the Kevins in your life- who even though they were broken people (as we all are) they taught critical lessons about life, faith and hope.
I sing a song of the saints of God,
Patient and brave and true,
Who toiled and fought and lived and died
For the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was an actor, and one was a queen,
And one was a shepherdess on the green;
They were all of them saints of God, and I mean,
God helping, to be one too