When we were living in Beijing, I was hired by the Political section to draft the Religious Freedom Report, and later, the Human Rights Report. Before I could do that, though, I needed to get my security clearance reinstated. And to do that, I had to go through an interview with Gordon.
Now, to put it bluntly: Gordon sort of terrified me. He was a retired Marine who had come to Beijing with his wife, Lindy, and found part time work in my husband's office. He was big and gruff and deep-voiced. He'd served in Vietnam, back in the day, and even now, in Beijing, he wore his white hair cropped close, military-style. He was always polite to me, but never chatty. So the idea of facing this fierce former Marine across the desk scared me just a little bit.
Of course I'm basically squeaky clean, but still these interviews freak me out a bit. I went to the interview at the appointed hour, records and files in tow, nervous despite myself.
He looked over the paperwork in silence for a few minutes before carefully sounding out my maiden name: Sca-Ra-Mas-Tra.
He narrowed his eyes at me as if he'd found the first problem, saying "Scaramastra, huh? I knew a Tommy Scaramastra, once. He was in the Coast Guard."
"That's my cousin!" I told him, and he broke out in a huge grin. Turns out he and my cousin were buddies, way back when. We spent the next hour chatting, Gordon and I, about his service in Vietnam and his friendship with my cousin and his wife and my husband and all of our kids. I left smiling. The man had totally charmed me.
A year went by, and we had a mutual friend at post who was facing a truly terrible medical situation. In an effort to alleviate some of her problems, her friends organized a fundraiser. We figured if we could gather $20 or so from each of her friends, we could help her out, if only a bit.
Then along came Gordon. He and his wife talked it over before he handed me a fat envelope, their contribution to the other family. It was beyond generous, what he gave. I sat there open-mouthed, staring at the stack of bills, before telling him no, that was too much for one family to give.
But Gordon wouldn't hear of donating less. He teared up as he told me his own tragedy, his own sad story of long-ago loss, still fresh in his memory. And that was that: he could give no less.
Gordon turned into one of my favorite people at post: a bit gruff on the outside, sure, but inside so full of joy, and compassion, and laughter. He and Lindy lit up every room they walked into, every single time. Both so special.
From Beijing, as you know, we came to Amman, and they moved on to further adventures in Kenya. We kept in touch infrequently, through facebook and mutual friends.
And so it happened that I heard today that Lindy and Gordon just left Kenya a few short weeks ago after he was diagnosed with cancer. He turned down chemo, determined to live out whatever few days he has left close to his kids, the kids he was always talking about in Beijing. Whenever he talked about those children of his, his face always lit up with pride, with joy. I never met his kids, but if I saw them today, I'd tell them just that: so fierce was his love for them that his whole self lit up from within whenever he talked about them.
I can't think of anything I can do for Gordon at this late stage. But all day long, ever since I heard that he is facing this final battle, I've been thinking, and wishing, and praying.
Those of you who knew Gordon and Lindy, in Beijing, in Kenya, in all of their other posts: you know what I'm talking about. Didn't they touch your lives? Didn't they make you smile? Didn't you ever find yourself wishing you held so much happiness in your heart as the two of them did?
Salt of the earth, I guess you'd call Gordon. He is everything that is right about America. He has spent his life serving his country, serving his community, serving his family and friends as best he could.
Whether you know the family or not, can I ask you to think of them in the coming weeks? To pray, if you have prayers to give? This man, this woman, this family - they are truly special people. I am honored to have served with them, and I am a better person for their example. I am praying that the whole family finds the peace they so richly deserve.
Thank you both, Gordon and Lindy. Prayers, hugs, and everything good your way, from all across this globe of ours. You are both so loved.
Updated to add: a few short hours after I hit "publish" on this post, I received word that Gordon had died. The world lost a beautiful soul.