Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Happy Birthday, Steve Norman

Becky reminded us that today would have been Steve's 57th birthday. Fred O also remembered, and posted a link to his blog. He published his remarks from Steve's funeral, which I republish here:

For those who did not have the pleasure of knowing my friend Steve, I am including a portion of the remarks that I made at his funeral three years ago. I think it will give you a flavor of his uniqueness. This is from the funeral of March 3, 2005, after his death on March 1:

Steve is the most brilliant person I have ever known. He could figure out and fix anything, whether it was schoolwork, or computers, or cars, or something around the house. How ironic it is that this “beautiful mind” he possessed betrayed him in the last years. I had always thought I was smart until I saw Steve come up with unique ways of looking at problems and finding solutions. He proved himself as brilliant, not only in his schoolwork or in rigging up little inventions around the apartment or the house, but in other areas as well. We both liked puzzles like the Jumble. I would often be working on it and was normally pretty good. But I almost always had to write down the letters to get the answer. It always unnerved me a little when Steve would look at the Jumble over my shoulder. While I was writing combinations of letters down, hoping I would hit something familiar, Steve would in his head get all the words and the puzzle and then say, “That’s pretty cute.” We also have had a good time with the Car Talk puzzlers over the years. Steve had a wonderfully nimble mind.

Steve’s genius was confirmed in his idiosyncrasies. He was, in some ways, the “absent-minded professor.” One day while living on campus at Tech, he drove his old Mustang to the Student Center to pick up his mail. He got distracted talking to some folks and walked back to the dorm. The next morning he got up but couldn’t find his car—and it didn’t occur to him that it was at the Student Center. So, he called the police to report his car missing. He found it himself a few weeks later—happened to walk by it and finally remembered. Jim Haskell wonders why he would think the Mustang was stolen. Who would take it? This is the car that, when Steve would take a sharp left hand turn, the passenger door would fly wide open. Now, why didn’t he fix that? I think it was because it served a dual purpose on dates: if he liked the girl, it gave him an excuse to reach out and grab her. If he didn’t like her, well, it gave him an easy way to get rid of her.

Let me say one more thing about his brilliance. It went beyond mere computing power. Steve was brilliant because he knew his limits. One Saturday a bunch of us were at the old gym here at Second-Ponce, playing basketball. Steve was, as usual, playing in the middle, mixing it up with the other “big guys” while the little guys like me were staying safely outside. Apparently it got rather heated inside—a few elbows flew and words were exchanged. Finally Steve walked off the court and sat on the bench. He said, “I quit,” and nothing more. At first, some of us were thinking, “Come on, you’re a Christian; you can handle it. Without you we don’t have an even number of people.” I know, because those are the kinds of things we began to say to try to get him to come back and play. After a few moments of listening in silence, Steve finally spoke. “If I stay out there, I know I’m going to lose my cool. I don’t want to do that, so it’s better for me to take myself out and calm down over here.” We had thought Steve immature for quitting; his answer showed he was the one being mature. He knew that his limit had been reached. He knew the temptation that lay before him. He knew that God counsels us to get ourselves out of temptation’s way, to flee from it. He reminded me in that moment that many times we should remove ourselves from difficult circumstances instead of staying in them, that the “way of escape” often involves taking just the kind of action that Steve did that day.

Yes, Steve was brilliant, but not everybody knew that. That’s because he often kept it well-hidden behind a unique sense of humor. I know that others would have more colorful descriptions of his humor, but since I shared it in every way, I think unique will suffice.

This sense of humor is well illustrated in one of his famous escapades with Linn Acuff. In college days, they were headed to Florida for a vacation, and they were going to meet up with Cindy—Lin’s wife, who he was dating at the time—and some friends in Cedartown. Steve and Lin plotted an elaborate hoax. Lin was to pull up his car in a parking lot where he was to meet Cindy and her friends. Lin would step away from the car but leave the keys in the ignition. Steve, who would be let off a block early, would disguise himself by putting on an old wig they had found, run to the car, hop in, crank it up, and take off. Lin would give chase in Cindy’s car. The plan called for them to turn off on a county road. Steve would stop the car by the side of the road and flee. Lin would give chase and catch him. They would tumble out of sight. Finally, Lin would emerge alone back to the car filled with frightened girls. When they asked the inevitable, “What happened?” Lin was to raise the wig he had taken from Steve’s head during the fight and say, “I scalped him.” And it would have worked, too—except for one thing. An alert Cedartown citizen witnessed the car theft and notified police. So, instead of two cars in the ensuing chase, there were three—and one of them had lights and sirens.

Steve had a lot of humorous adventures in his life, but I think he went on these adventures, not as much for the adventures themselves as for their story value. Steve loved more than anything else to tell stories. And if they happened to be true, so much the better.I met Steve 30 years ago. He was 22, and I was 18. He was, of course, already bald on top at that age. One day I made the mistake of asking him why he was bald so early in life. “You’ve never heard this story?” he asked. “Well, I use to smoke cigars, and one day I was reading the newspaper, and my cigar fell out of my mouth and caught the newspaper on fire, and my hair was burned off and never grew back.” I bit: “Why didn’t you throw the newspaper down and run?” Steve said, “Well, I couldn’t get out my crib.”

I wish I had time to explain and tell you the Dog Joke—but Steve never let me tell it. I had to supply the laughter so people would think there was something funny in it and wonder why they couldn’t get the joke. Of course, they would often laugh, pretending they got the joke that wasn’t there. Or to tell you about Steve’s game called, “Name a State” or to tell you the true facts of the time we saved a man from floating off into space that turned into another wonderful story or about the ceramic owl that Bill Hunkin once made me that our families have surreptitiously smuggled to one another over the years. I wanted to put it in the casket, but someone said, “You’d really be surprised to see how Steve would get it back to you, then, wouldn’t you?”

Steve was brilliant, yes. And he certainly possessed a unique sense of humor. But his life is even more defined by the loves of his life.

Steve was a man who loved his family. Becky, Steve had dated many girls before he dated you. But he knew quickly that you were the one with whom he wanted to spend his life. So he pursued you and caught you. And he has always been glad for that. In the last couple of years, as Steve’s behavior changed but we didn’t know why and there was frustration and Steve and I spent extra time together, he told me that he wanted to do anything that would make him the husband you wanted. He loved you so much.

Children, how he loved you! What a great concept he and your mother came up with that he would take a trip with each of you at age 10. I know that those of you who got to take the trip were blessed. Remember and cherish that time forever. For those who did not—just know that your dad wanted so much to share that time with you. And several of us have been inspired to do the same with our families. Getting a late start, I do it at age 13. In Elizabeth Musser’s e-mail in memory of Steve, which many of you have read and all of you should, she mentions how they too have been inspired by the example set by Steve for trips with the children. My, how he loved you. Let me encourage you, as you face life without the physical presence of you father, to draw even closer together as a family. As you have drawn together in his sickness, let that continue in the months and years ahead. Remember the words of the Scripture:“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity.” You will honor your earthly father and your Heavenly Father as you put this into practice.

Steve not only loved his family.
Steve also loved the Lord Jesus and His church.

Yes, Steve loved Jesus, and he was what there are too few of in the world, in my estimation. He was an intellectual Christian. He didn’t just love Jesus with all his heart, all his soul, and all his strength. He loved him with all his mind. He liked to grapple with issues of faith. And he liked to help others grapple with those issues, too, whether it was through leading a Bible study or Sunday School class or simply engaging someone in conversation about the implications of what we say we believe. Steve didn’t want to have a faith that amounted to nothing more than window dressing. He possessed a faith that animated who he was and everything he did. He believed Jesus when He said, “I have come that you might have life, and might have it more abundantly.” Steve loved life. He loved his family. He loved His Lord. He loved this church and has been committed to her ministry through the past 30 years. And he died, by my reckoning, at least 30 years too soon.

When we learned of the Pick’s Disease, we didn’t know much about it. The one thing that we knew frightened us: it makes people less inhibited. Or, disinhibited, as Steve said it. Steve Norman, never possessing much inhibition to start with, was going to be less so? But we saw that happen. And many other things. We saw obsessions with washing and clothing and such things. I took him for a walk in the park near his house a few months back. He got tired and asked me to go get the van. When I got back, I couldn’t find him. I ran around asking people if they had seen a guy with a walker. No one had. I finally found him. In the park, there is a water treatment plant surrounded by a 6 foot iron fence and gate. I noticed Steve up in the air, straddling the top of the gate, with his walker hanging on the gate. He got it in his mind that he need to be on the other side of the gate and tried to climb over, but he couldn’t do it himself. And as I was taking him to a Tech game in the fall, as we were driving down Roswell Road near Buckhead, Steve kept unbuckling his seat belt and opening the car door as we were driving 40 miles an hour. And if I saw these things in my infrequent visits, how much more the family struggled day by day.

We knew that, barring a miracle, death would be the end result of this disease. It has come, and it has taken all of us by surprise at its suddenness. Death remains a great mystery. As Nurse Margaret Houlihan said in a M*A*S*H episode many years ago, “I’ve seen it many times, but I still don’t understand it. One minute you’re alive. The next minute you’re dead.” While all of us are sad and death is frightening to most of us, I think we will be able to say that in this case, death has come as a friend. None of us wanted to see Steve suffer and not be able to live the life he loved so much living. He has been spared that.

But death cannot be a friend by removing physical suffering alone. Death can only be a friend when we are confident of what comes after death and that we see that as good. While none of us has been able to die and come back to report what it is like on the other side, we have One who has—our Lord Jesus Christ. And this One, who would never lie to us, even to make us feel better, said,“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He also said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” [John 14.1-6; 11.25]

Death does not write the final chapter of life. Steve has a strong faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and he is there with Him today. And those of us who share that faith in Jesus Christ will see him again. How we look forward to that day.

Let me close by making one last observation. True to God’s promise that He causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose, I want to point out that there have been some hidden blessings that have come out of Steve’s illness. First, Becky, we have seen the body of Christ unite in a way that has been so encouraging to witness. While the body of Christ is often divided, we have seen the Spirit of God work in such a marvelous way as people have poured out their love to Steve and you, Becky, during this time. Your house is a tangible reminder of the strength and blessing of God. And, as funny as this may seem, there has even been a hidden blessing in the disinhibiting of Steve, at least to me personally. Several times in the past months, Steve has said, “Fred O., you’re my best friend.” And on one of my last times at the house as we sat around the kitchen table and I was rising to leave, Steve said something that I have long known but I had probably never heard. Steve looked up and said, “I love you, Fred O.”

I love you, too, Steve. We all do.

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