There’s an apocryphal story about one of PRBC’s former pastors, associate pastors, and our long-time, now-retired custodian, James Simpson. As the story goes, there was a rift between the pastor and the associate over James’s work. Apparently the associate was suggesting a termination might be in order, so the pastor made it clear: “You can be replaced. James cannot!”
When Amy and I came to Charlotte, the same message was delivered to us about Albert Gordon, a kitchen assistant in our Child Development Center (since Harriet Morris served as the first CDC cook – now about 45 years ago). Albert came to us from the Nevins Center, which cares for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Quickly he found a home and made his place among us, so we were told in no uncertain terms: “Albert is a non-negotiable!”
He worked every day in the kitchen washing pots and pans, breaking down boxes, taking out the trash and the recyclables. That trip from kitchen to dumpster and back got longer over the years. By the end, it might have taken a couple hours, but Albert was safe here, and he was better off roaming this campus than roaming the city on public transportation.
Albert’s other job was keeping us informed about sports and local mayhem! I don’t know where Albert got his news, but if there was a shooting, a robbery, an attack anywhere, Albert knew about it. He was also hard of hearing, so he mostly spoke in ALL CAPS! Our almost-daily conversation sounded a little like this: “... ‘BOUT THAT GIRL DOWN THERE!’ ‘What girl, Albert?’ ...‘GOT KILLED!’ ‘That’s terrible. Where?’ ...‘GIRL... AT THE BUS STOP!’ ”
Like most of our conversations, I also only understood about every tenth word in his sports report. I was never sure if we were talking FOOTBALL or BASKETBALL, or which team (except the PANTHERS!), and I couldn’t exactly tell which TEAM WON. Sports excited Albert, and he was glad to share the news.
Albert was 65 when he died on Saturday night. His health dictated an “early retirement” from the CDC several months ago. He was living in a retirement center, but a history of health issues finally overtook him. His short little frame and his oversized voice will be MISSED!
Albert would have been referred to as “special needs,” and that was right. He never stopped needing to be cared for with extra attention. But Albert also had “special gifts.” Our world seems aimed at perfection, beautiful people, beautiful things, more, bigger, better. A lot of what we strive for in life, hope for in our children, had eluded Albert. The intellect and the opportunity just weren’t in the hand he was dealt, but the unique presence Albert brought to our campus, the life he gave to this world would be misunderstood if we demeaned it as only “special.”
What does it say of God that in a poor, developmentally challenged, African- American kitchen assistant we have seen a bit of the divine? Perfection, beauty, more, bigger, better...? Albert taught us of the beautiful diversity of the God whose power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12.9).
For Albert Gordon, thanks be to God!