#3077 - Friday, February 15, 2008 - Editor: Jerry Katz
- #3077 - Friday, February 15, 2008 - Editor: Jerry KatzNondual Highlights - http://groups. yahoo.com/ group/NDhighlightsA local Nova Scotia policeman and politician, beloved by the people, died last week at the age of 53. This is a simple story of remembrances, the kind you'd see in any local newspaper, with a nondual twist at the end.Published: 2008-02-16
One last goodbye, then home we go, friend
By Peter Duffy
IT SEEMS FITTING, somehow, that this huge house of God was chosen for the goodbyes.
This place is almost as big as Gary Martin himself, the man we’re here to honour this chilly Friday morning; the man of the people taken by cancer last Sunday at the achingly early age of 53.
There are more than 700 of us packed into the cavernous nave of St. Mary’s Basilica in downtown Halifax, far too many to have squeezed into St. Ignatius in Bedford, where Gary, his wife, Darlene, and their three daughters worshipped.
Everywhere you look, there are politicians of all stripes and degrees of importance and uniforms galore. You can’t turn without bumping into firefighters, Mounties and members of police departments from around Nova Scotia and as far away as Ottawa.
As we entered, a few paces back from the honour guard, Halifax firefighter Grant Withers in full Highland garb was playing a lament on the bagpipes. He’s silent now that the service is underway but he’ll take up again when we leave with one of the saddest laments of all, The Battle is O’er.
Outnumbering all the pomp and circumstance folk, however, just plain folks, hundreds of ordinary men and women whose lives Gary Martin touched in some way, have packed this mighty Roman Catholic cathedral with its soaring arches.
Perhaps, during his 26 years as a cop, he came to their door in time of trouble and helped them in some small way. Maybe he took off his hat and just listened to them, made them feel like someone cared. Or he might have steered an errant son or daughter back on track.
Because that’s who he was: a no-nonsense cop and later, Bedford’s popular representative on regional council. But most of all, he was a human being with a heart and soul almost too big for his frame, which is saying a lot because Gary stood 6-4.
If you want to know what this man looked like, stay behind after the service and study the photo of him up there at the front alongside the black and gold container of his ashes. Forget how young he looked when it was taken, with his grin and handlebar moustache. Focus instead on the twinkle in his eyes because that never changed, down through all the years.
He was always up for fun, for a belly laugh and a practical joke, as we’ve been hearing in remembrances from friends and his daughters because this is a time of celebrating all that was so ordinary about this extraordinary man.
Ten friends and former police colleagues, led by Steve Saunders, have come together as a scratch choir to sing Gary on his way. Interspersed with the readings and prayers, they’re making their way through four special hymns, including the powerful Be Not Afraid and On Eagles’ Wings.
During communion, retired police officer Cedric Upshaw steps forward to sing Lionel Richie’s Goodbye, a song about how hard it is to part. The family asked for it specially.
Rev. Lloyd O’Neill, Gary’s priest and also the police chaplain, is conducting the service. He calls Gary "one of our most outstanding citizens and a wonderful human being."
The priest tells us he spoke with Gary at the hospital, near the end. "We prayed together," he says, "and afterwards, Gary spoke from the soul and summed up his life in one sentence: ‘I love people.’ "
In the pews, hundreds of hands tighten on balled-up tissues.
Father O’Neill says Gary had 85 letters of commendation in his file by the time he retired from the police, a career he’d always dreamed of and one he’d made happen.
Paul MacKenzie, Gary’s closest friend and former colleague, gives the eulogy. Both men started policing in 1976, and Paul still remembers a description he heard of the other man in that first week. Gary was judged to be a nice kid but one who was "as big as an ox, as strong as an ox and . . . just as smart!"
How little they knew.
Gary was always a doer, says Paul. "I’d hear him say on the phone, (even) in his last year, ‘Please don’t tell me what you can’t do; tell me what you can do, and we’ll make it happen.’ "
Paul reaches back across the years to finish his eulogy. At the end of each shift on patrol, he recalls, Gary would turn to him. "He’d say, ‘Looks like it’s time to take her home.’ "
Paul pauses, then says softly, "Home we go, Gary."
He steps down from the microphone, and our throats tighten, overpowered by his friend’s salute. In fact, we’re still composing ourselves during the final ritual of this bittersweet 90-minute service, the solemn presentation of Gary’s police hat and medals to the family.
And then it’s done, and the huge crowd begins making its way slowly out onto Spring Garden Road.
I step over to the small table at the front where Gary’s picture is sitting.
I stand there, thinking back to a conversation he and I had in the hospital, about three weeks before he died.
Something remarkable had just happened to him, so remarkable that he couldn’t find the words to describe it.
He’d been "gone" for about 36 hours. His body was still there in that hospital bed, but Gary himself was — gone.
And then, just as suddenly, he was "back." It surprised the heck out of everyone, he told me, especially Darlene, who’d been told by the doctor to summon the family because this was "it."
I implored Gary to tell me what he’d seen while he was gone.
He shook his head. "It’s just something you have to experience to believe in," he said. "I think I’m still part of it. I don’t know where or when or how but I feel the journey is still proceeding."
We sat in silence for a few moments.
"Are you afraid?" I finally asked.
"Not in the least," he assured me. "I’m not so afraid now after that."
And his face creased into a huge grin, the same grin on the face staring up at me from the photo here in the emptying cathedral.
Gary Martin is home.