In dark days, 2 candles

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February 19, 2017 5:21 PM

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The last time I saw Michael Gradison, I was helping him struggle up the steps of the City-County Building to join a demonstration on behalf of unionization for hotel workers making poverty wages.

The last time I saw Joe Zelenka, I was trying and failing to lift him into bed in a nursing home room bedecked with memorabilia of his humanitarian work and his large, close family.

Michael died Feb. 12 after fighting through pain from multiple ailments for decades. Joe succumbed to years of dementia and heart failure on Jan. 13.

Unless you knew them, and countless folks all over the world emphatically did, you probably didn’t note their passing. If you care about justice, mercy and the true pillars of community strength, you should recognize two of the greatest warriors this city has produced.

Mike lent his deep erudition, rascally wit and gravel voice to civil liberties (he was former executive director of the Indiana ACLU), police-community relations (he spearheaded creation of a citizen review board), reparations for Hoosiers of Japanese descent who’d been interned in the World War II-era camps, and about any other citizenship challenge that came along.

Joe was, simply, the most Christlike individual I’ve ever met, making more than 50 trips to Haiti on his own meager budget to serve the Hemisphere’s most destitute people, leading prayer vigils at virtually every homicide scene in the city, volunteering for the entire array of Catholic charities and fearlessly voicing his frustration with the bishops and the government for kowtowing to dictatorships and the gun lobby. Answering the call of Jesus and Paul themselves, he proudly claimed the title of Fool.

The silence of these gentle giants oppresses me and deprives us all. I can’t think off a worse time to be without them. Yet I take heart that lives such as theirs have flourished in every time, and have kept on nourishing us when they’ve fallen. May these lions lost in winter ensure our spring.

 

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