On October 18, 2023, Earth lost and Heaven gained a great man.
His name was Daniel James Davis, Dan to those who knew him. He passed away three weeks shy of his seventy-first birthday.
I met Dan through a men’s group I joined while I was still living in Grand Rapids. A cornerstone of this particular group is phone calls. At the end of each meeting, we’d break off into small groups and designate who was calling who. This was the primary way I got to know Dan.
Dan was the type of guy who had a Bible verse or story for every occasion. In today’s climate, that typically comes with a negative connotation. We have names for people who quote Scripture at the drop of a hat: Bible thumpers, fundamentalists, hypocrites, religious nutjobs. Dan was none of those things. Meeting Dan was what taught me the difference between a righteous person (being right in the eyes of God) and a self-righteous person (being right in your own eyes). Dan showed his faith at every opportunity not to flex his moral muscles or beat others over the head, but because he was like an overflowing bucket: he was so bursting at the seams with a Heavenly blessing that something had to spill out. In addition, Dan was no hypocrite. Hypocrisy requires hiding: a pastor checking his secret Grindr profile before ranting from the pulpit about how homosexuality is evil; a politician rich from bribes calling other lawmakers corrupt; a boyfriend demanding monogamy from his girlfriend while having a second phone. Dan never hid the kind of man he used to be. In our Sunday morning Zoom calls and in phone calls, he would talk about how his past actions had hurt others, had fractured his relationship with his wife and kids. But instead of wallowing in self-pity, he used his past like landing lights to the Heavenly Father. “If my life can change,” Dan said with his actions and life, “so can yours.”
I don’t know when Dan actually received the cancer diagnosis. What I know is one Sunday, as we went around the Zoom call recapping our weeks, Dan mentioned how his chemo treatments were going. The thing was, if he hadn’t said something, I never would have known Dan was sick. Even though the combo of chemotherapy and cancer ravaged his body, Dan’s face remained untouched, and his face was all I saw in the Zoom call. And even though having cancer and going through chemotherapy to try and rid yourself of it are both painful processes, Dan never said anything, positive or negative.
I was absent from the men’s group in the last few weeks of Dan’s life. It didn’t matter, because the group’s leaders told me upon my return that Dan had been too ill to attend. I showed up the Sunday after his passing, partially because it was the first free Sunday morning I’d had in weeks, partially for Dan. I was only in the call a few minutes before the emotions hit me. I broke down crying, letting out several days’ worth of pent-up anguish. My fellow attendees calmed me down, telling me that Dan had died peacefully in his sleep, that he died knowing he was loved and that he was no longer suffering.
I wasn’t able to make it to Dan’s funeral, even though I desperately wanted to be there, to see him one more time and tell his family and loved ones what a blessing he’d been to myself and the other members of the group. But saying that in person wasn’t in the cards.
Dan, if you can read this, I so deeply appreciate your mentorship. We miss you down here, but we know this is “see you later,” not “goodbye.”
Noah Keene graduated from Calvin University in December 2021 with a major in creative writing and a minor in Spanish. He currently resides in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan. He spends his free time reading and putting his major to good use by working on his first novel. See what he’s reading by following him on Instagram @peachykeenebooks and read his other personal writing by going to thekeenechronicles.com.