My tears were my diploma, another’s death my benediction, and my failure my ordination.

I wish to memorialize Arthur Forte, dead the second year of my ministry, poor before he died, unkempt, obscene, sardonic, arrogant, old, old, lonely, black, and bitter—but one whose soul has never ceased to teach me. From Arthur, from the things this man demanded of me, and from my restless probing of that experience, I grow. This is absolutely true. My pastoral hands are tenderized. My perceptions into age and pain are daily sharpened. My humility is kept soft, unhardened. And by old, dead Arthur I remember the profounder meaning of my title, minister.

It is certainly time, now, to memorialize teachers, those undegreed, unasked, ungentle, unforgettable. In memoriam then: Arthur Forte.

Arthur lived in a shotgun house, so-called because it was three rooms in a dead straight line, built narrowly on half a city lot.

More properly, Arthur lived in the front room of his house. Or rather, to speak the cold, disturbing truth, Arthur lived in a rotting stuffed chair in that room, from which he seldom stirred the last year of his life.

No one mourned his absence from church. The man had a walk and a manner like a toad, a high-backed slouch, and a burping contempt for his fellow parishioners. Arthur’s mind, though uneducated, was excellent. He had written poetry in his day, both serious and sly, but now he used words to shiv Christians in their pews. No one felt moved to visit him when he became housebound.

Except me. I was the pastor, so sweetly young and dutiful. It was my job. And Arthur had phoned to remind me of that.

But to visit Arthur was grimly sacrificial.

After several months of chair sitting, both Arthur and his room were filthy. I do not exaggerate: ...

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