This week, we said goodbye to a good friend, a man of compassion, a man who quietly built up others, offering his hand in friendship.
Herman Gonzalez was quiet, his voice low as he spoke to the men and women who came to court. They were scared, not speaking the language, not knowing what would happen, not knowing what to do.
One by one, they came before the bench, listening to the judge, then listening to him, as he translated the strange words about law and court and traffic tickets into their own language.
He smiled, and so did they. He explained things to them, and they nodded. They told their story and the judge listened to them, asking a few questions.
It was OK to tell the truth, he’d say. That’s what court is for, to find out the truth, and figure out an answer that was fair. And, everyone gets to have their own say, to tell their side of the story.
He’d talk to the police, getting a bit more of the story, a few more ideas of making things right, and finding the answers.
It was OK, coming to court and talking to the judge, he would tell the people. The cops were just people, just doing their job. They are good people, just people like you and me. It is OK to disagree, to speak up, and tell your own truth.
Herman offered a few questions of his own, giving out information, explaining their stories and explaining the judge’s questions and ideas of how the ticket could be resolved. Some of the suggestions seemed too hard, too overwhelming, until Herman offered to help them, to find the solution. He’d go with them, showing them the way, doing the talking for them, and getting things done.
It may have been a trip to DMV, or to an insurance agent, or maybe a quick trip to the auto parts store to fix a mechanical problem with their car. Or maybe it was food for their child, or to find a job, or a place to live. He was always looking for true justice.
Nothing was impossible for Herman. He would find a way, and he would help them out.
People called him all the time. They came to his house, and knocked on the door, knowing that Herman would listen to them, help them out, show them the way. He’d make a few calls, he’d give them directions, the name of someone who could help.
He didn’t know a stranger, and he’d greet everyone with a smile, a hearty handshake.
Sometimes, people would lie to him, trying to get him to do something that wasn’t quite right. Or, they’d shade the truth, or not tell him the whole story. He’d catch on to that, and then you’d see his anger. You didn’t need some of the words translated; his red face and edgy voice told the story. And, then, he’d offer his lesson in honesty and decency, about living life with purpose and love. Father Herman, setting things right and getting people back on the right track.
It was always a good day in court when Herman was there. People’s stories were told, and all the important parts were sure to be included. People were able to resolve their problems, and move on with their lives, feeling better about themselves, and about the cops and the court. They found some resources for themselves and their families, and were able to be a better part of the community.
Respect, that’s what they really got.
Herman loved to fish. He always had a fishing story to tell. And jokes, so many jokes. He always had you laughing.
At the funeral, the priest asked us to read this prayer together:
I pray that I may live to fish
Until my dying day.
And when it comes to my last cast,
I then most humbly pray:
When in the Lord’s great landing net
And peacefully asleep
That in His mercy I be judged
Big enough to keep.
We laughed; we told Herman stories. We smiled, celebrating a life filled with love and purpose. We cried, too, at all the good memories, all the funny stories. We missed him so much.
We honored a great man, a man who made his community stronger, who made all of us more compassionate, better fishers of others in our midst.
—Neal Lemery, June 7, 2015