In my first meeting with Tim Murphy, I encountered a slight man, a bit bent, with a thick head of red hair, eager to recite — nay, to sing — some of his poems.
I only glimpsed then what an exquisite soul lay hidden inside his worn exterior. But the lively sparkle in his eyes while sharing his masterful rhymes revealed the fascinating layers within.
Raised in Moorhead, he’d trained at Yale before returning to the prairie to mine, in meter, the rich soil of his youth. He was a word-genius dwelling quietly in our largely-unknowing midst.
We became friends after I wrote an Easter story of his conversion, which he’d likened to St. Paul’s. The change had been fast and furious, like much of his life and the poems that poured from his pen until his final days.
Our visits consisted mostly of Tim at his computer reading his freshest creations. He delighted in sharing them, and I, in the hearing.
On June 4, he’d emailed: “Please Visit the Sick for a medical update and some poems.” Cancer had overtaken his body, and I knew our time together was fleeting.
After the diagnosis, Tim was as prolific as ever, crediting the Holy Spirit as he churned out line after line of a collection he’d tentatively titled, “Last Poems.”
But by the time I was able to reach Tim, on June 20, he was stretched out on a hospital bed in the middle of his bedroom, mellowed by meds.
There’d be no more lively recitations of his luminous word-paintings. Still, the moment offered me a chance to pour words onto him in the form of prayer; a hoped-for salve for his soul.
My oldest son, who’d met Tim years before in an entirely different context, stood vigil with me for a while. Then, moments after I’d made the sign of the cross, the Reverend Robert Pecotte appeared at Tim’s doorstep from a four-hour drive.
In another room nearby, we sat quietly, grateful to faintly hear the merciful words of anointing and forgiveness being lavished over our friend.
Tim’s hunting pal sent word last Saturday that he’d passed away very peacefully that morning.
My heart heavy, I drove straight to the airport, tears gushing, to make an unlikely appeal for travel alterations to a planned trip so I could attend Tim’s funeral.
About an hour after I arrived, the agent looked at me squarely while handing me a revised itinerary, smiling. “I’d say you’re lucky, but this wasn’t luck. It was providential.” Just as providential, perhaps, as a willing “angel,” receptive and ready to help me reach my friend one last time.
Tim Murphy, after sidestepping God for years, ended his life unabashedly clinging to his savior. And the poems he penned post-conversion, fashioned from the heart of one who’d gulped deeply the sweet taste of redemption, are a profound gift to us all.
Requiesce in peace, my friend.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on July 9, 2018. The accompanying photo was borrowed from an earlier piece I’d done on Murphy for The Forum, as linked here. Additional pieces on Murphy I’ve written are included toward the end of his Wikipedia page.]