Once in a while, there comes along a personality, not needing to be elected or selected. He just steps into his natural role, as friend, guide and benefactor. Riding crisis after crisis, he draws closer to an entire group of people, without fanfare. Those who learn to love him form an ever widening circle, until the sheer numbers stagger you. Such a man was Cletus Gomez who took leave of everyone, three months ago.
Why do we write appreciations? Is it to be thanked by the family and friends ? Perhaps not. Recording impressions left by Cletus is almost something we owe to ourselves, to reduce the grief by sharing. And we keep polishing the sentences until they are good enough to match the man we knew.
This was a leader of a different calibre. He preferred to be among people, not above them. Many are the instances recalled when we eased into our chairs in little groups on a lawn, during some celebration or outing. Cletus could have been the moving force behind the event. Yet he never raised his voice above the bustle and clink. Those who sat closer to him, heard the resonant baritone in a subtle quip, and saw the finishing touch of that mischievous smile the smile that stayed to the end.
People say he took his bearings from family, church and school. Friends must have formed the fourth cornerstone.
On noticing excellent conduct in someone, we often remark that, that person comes from a good home. It was definitely so in the case of this friend we mourn. No one could have had such a grasp of men and matters and such commitment to whatever he undertook without those values being upheld in the warmth of home and hearth. What he learned there, he continued to practice when raising his own family later on.
The cloister was the obvious next place of interest. Nothing could shake the firm faith of this devout Catholic. But, he chose to serve his church, not by leaving the lay life, but by playing the strong role of the householder, who forged a living, vibrant link between the clergy and the flock. His parents, after all, were the pioneer builders of St. Theresas Church, Thimbirigasyaya. So, they can greet him now with "Well done, son!"
Arent we all proud of the Alma Mater? Nobody could claim to be more so than Cletus. Proud and loyal. We watched from a distance, his gratitude to the school. What he achieved through the Old Boys Union is the preserve of Benedictines. We cannot trespass.
Let us emphasize that his religious leaning did not make an ascetic of Cletus. He lived the good life, the full life, but, not just for himself. The way he reached out so readily to share the good things, and also his willingness to forgive, display time honoured Christian values. How many of us get invited to do wine-tasting? Thats just one facet of this gem of knowledgability, carried with humility.
Friendships formed by Cletus took deep root. An occasional, emotional outburst would reveal to us, how much he cherished them. Organize a trip, and he sends his van with a full tank. Go out to dinner in a crowd, and he gets hurt, if someone tries to split the bill. Tell him youre taking your family out on a holiday, and he is thrilled.
He is all excitement offering you tips, and even rings people on your route ahead, to arrange for help.
When it came to birthdays and anniversaries, him memory was phenomenal. The surprised recipient of a card often wondered where Cletus tucked away so much information about so many people. Each greeting card was handpicked and the message naughtily improved by Cletus himself. Thats something we will have to learn to do without, when those dates come round again.
Being ill and confined to bed did not dampen his enthusiasm for the good work. Someone plans a function to raise money for a worthy cause. Cletus cannot go. So, he sends money. A raffle is part of the fund raising effort. The grateful organizers buy tickets in his name. He wins! Poetic justice? Nor does it end there. Some nuns in Anuradhapura have, in the meantime, asked him for a bed. Cletus gets in touch, and persuades them to accept something else the refrigerator he won in the raffle.
In more ways than one, Cletus was involved with the sick. So many patients will recall his kindly touch, the comforting words, the e-mails and the letters of introduction; and the generosity of his purse. Yet, is it not ironical that during the final illness that snatched him away, most of his beneficiaries could only look on, helplessly? Acceptance of that blow calls for Cletus kind of faith.
We do not want to list out his achievements, or the posts he held, or his acts of charity: there are just too many. Ours is a salute in admiration. Cletus stole so gently into peoples hearts, that we never saw him as an imposing presence. But as distances Cletus from us, we recognize the giant.
It shouldnt surprise anyone that priests and nuns formed such a large section of those who swamped the place for one last glimpse and prayer; his was a life of service.
Among friends, who owed whom did not interest! him. He never harped on a favour done. He cared not to calculate the cost of a good deed. When such people get their reward in the land of well-earned rest, the rate of exchange is infinity.
If it can in some way ease the pain, let Christine, Prashan, Praveen and Suren and the near ones, take comfort from one clear reflection. They are not alone. Hundreds and hundreds become the extended family to bear and share the sorrow. He was given to us just for a while.
For years to come, so many of us could keep repeating with a twinge "I had the privilege of knowing Cletus Gomez."
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