Harry Lehotsky died in the wee hours of November 11th, 2006. Over the past week, 70% of the top 15 search strings to find my blog were looking for information about Harry Lehotsky, dwarfing my usual #1 result subject (oddly, Starbuck’s Coffee). Since I’ve mentioned him before, suggesing him as a model of missional living. Unfortunately, I didn’t know Harry that well, more through mutual friends than anything. I remember his coworker Larry Gregan from my Prov days, and of course my friend Jamie Arpin-Ricci has much to say about Harry and his impact on the community.
I read Jamie’s most recent post on my PDA just before the funeral this morning. My office is only about a block from where the funeral was held, and as I was heading for the back door I found a small collection of our staff staring out the window in the direction of the church… they were watching people trying to find places to park, watching the steady stream of people into the church where the funeral was being held. The church was near capacity, probably 16-1700 people in attendance. It had been widely publicized that the funeral would feature a videotaped message from Harry himself, and as I walked up to the front of the church I surveyed the decaled vehicles from every news outlet in the city and the clusters of reporters and camera crews scattered along the sidewalk.
What would you say if you could speak at your own funeral? Almost four years ago, Harry posed a pertinent question in his Inner City Diary,
What would people be saying at your funeral if you died today? How would your obituary read? If you don’t like what you imagine people saying after your death, you can start living in a way that will enable them to talk nicer when you’re gone.
Today a number of big things happened in Manitoba. The provincial legislature opened a new session today, and the throne speech promised $4Billion for highways, announced a $5Billion hydroelectric dam project would proceed, and pledged a 60% tuition rebate for students who remain in the province after graduation. The city is awash with Grey Cup fever (Winnipeg hosts the event this coming weekend), and two homicide investigations were opened today. The lead news story bumped all of these to provide coverage of Harry’s funeral.
So much has been written and said about Harry Lehotsky in the media and elsewhere since his diagnosis with terminal cancer and since his recent death… and by a wide variety of media outlets and individuals, including a thorough Winnipeg Free Press article [followed up in print with other features, plus remembrances to appear this weekend somewhere amid all the inevitable Grey Cup coverage]. It’s quite noteworthy that the individual comments include current and former premiers, the mayor, a variety of politicians, clergy, and regular folk from Harry’s neighbourhood. The clips I heard on the Radio today were peppered with introductions like, “If it hadn’t been for Harry…” and went on to talk about addictions, hopelessness, and life on the streets. The outpouring of support was an encouragement to Harry in those final months of his journey. A depth of respect and honour for him and his work is evident in a city scholarship and a provincial award and a neighbourhood mural as well as a number of fundraisers to ensure the continuation of his work.
The videotaped message ran 33 minutes, is available for viewing online, and is worth the investment of time (I hope the link works, it requires Flash 8 which I don’t have). The funeral had several moments that were moving, touching. The video made me think. In death, Harry Lehotsky has become almost larger-than-life, and there’s a temptation to look at his footsteps and think, “a giant walked here.” But the message of Harry’s life was conveyed in his final message, and you have the distinct impression while whatching it that what you see is what you get. What made Harry so different was that he simply did what was obvious to him, caring for his community, doing small things consistently. What he seemed to communicate is that what he did was nothing extra-special, and others should do likewise, for they are just like he is, nothing extra-special.
I filed out of the church and headed back up the street, thinking it all over. Harry Lehotsky lived an ordinary life in an ordinary way… with extraordinary results. And somehow, there is something special about that.