Last month I learned that my friend Pete Fullerton died of cancer. He had been diagnosed seven weeks earlier and his last journey was, gratefully, peaceful.
If you’re a fan of 1960s folk rock you may recognize him from We Five and their hit song You Were On My Mind.
In the fall of 1983 I was a seminarian with the Stigmatine Fathers, living in Los Altos, California. At the time I took classes at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park. As part of our education we were all assigned to a parish. We were expected to participate in the ministry of the parish but we were given some freedom to choose what we did.
I was assigned to St. Williams and St. Nicholas Catholic Churches in Los Altos. I was asked to participate in the youth ministry there; at first I declined because I already had experience in youth ministry and wished to broaden my experience.
Nevertheless I agreed to I meet a couple that lived in the parish and had teenagers in the group. My first dinner with Pete and Sue Fullerton changed my life in ways that continue to take my breath away.
They were raising five children. Pete worked as a security guard and Sue worked in the Catholic school that allowed their children to attend tuition free.
Suffice it to say that they convinced me to participate in the youth ministry program, working with the youth minister Greg Kremer.
In addition to their participation in the youth group they began a charity called the Truck of Love. I grew up Catholic and was familiar with organizations that helped the poor. But Pete and Sue (and others) taught me not only to give, but to give with enthusiasm. They taught me that we shouldn’t give to the poor because we think we’re better than them but that we should give because we are all the equally loved. Generosity isn’t a value but a commandment.
They also taught me that we are called not just to give what people ask for but what they need. Pete taught me to ask “What else do you need?” When people in need ask for something they often ask for less than they need out of embarrassment. But when we tell them that they are loved and deserve what they need we give them the freedom to ask.
One more memory: On June 13, 1987 many of us gathered in upstate New York for the wedding of our friends Greg and Kate. The next day I took a canoe onto Lake Ontario intending a short trip. Alas, I stupidly found myself in over my head when the canoe capsized and I couldn’t paddle back to shore. Greg, Kate, Pete, Sue and several of my friends spent the night praying that I would be found. I spent the night knowing that I was the only person on earth that knew I was alive.
As you can guess I survived, but I learned that those who spent the night not knowing about my survival divided into camps. Some believed I would be found alive and others were preparing for my death. But Pete spent the night telling those gathered that no matter what happened to me they would find a way move forward.
In the years since I’ve often thought of that. So many times I’ve found myself subject to events beyond my control where I expect, hope, or pray for a positive outcome. Pete taught me not to pray for a particular outcome but instead to pray for the strength and faith to accept what happens.
When I learned that Pete was diagnosed with a cancer that infiltrated his brain I called him and Sue. Pete responded, as I expected, with his faith, humor, and love. He knew his days were numbered and decided to live the rest of his life with the love he shared with me.
I pray that when my time comes I will show the grace, humor and love he gave me.