To a man of en­dur­ing faith, brother Cro­mar­tie, with love

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is some­thing eter­nally bond­ing about a shared neardeath ex­pe­ri­ence, which is how I first met Michael Cro­mar­tie.

This was 15 or so years ago, be­fore I had moved to the na­tion’s cap­i­tal for an up-close look at power. Cro­mar­tie had called to in­vite me to one of the Faith An­gle Fo­rums he hosted for a se­lect group of jour­nal­ists and schol­ars to dis­cuss re­li­gion in the public square. I hap­pened to be driv­ing when my cell­phone rang.

“Kath­leen, you don’t know me, but I’ve got a fabulous in­vi­ta­tion for you!”

His en­thu­si­asm was such that he was nearly chirp­ing and I do be­lieve there was a choir of an­gels hum­ming in the near-dis­tance when sud­denly an­other car shot out of nowhere. I was forced into the me­dian, across two lanes of on­com­ing traf­fic and onto the grassy shoul­der on the far side of the road.

Whew! Shak­ing and gasp­ing for air, I re­al­ized I was still on the phone with Cro­mar­tie, who was sput­ter­ing and try­ing to de­ter­mine what had hap­pened. Was I all right? Yes, no, I don’t know, I think so.

For the next 30 min­utes or so, we chat­ted away, he in his of­fice and I still sit­ting road­side in my car, about ev­ery­thing un­der the sun — life, death, God, grat­i­tude. When a con­ver­sa­tion sud­denly swerves from cor­dial hel­los to, “Oh-my-God-that­per­son-al­most-killed-me,” one is al­lowed to by­pass sev­eral cen­turies of pleas­antries and cut to the chase. We also nearly died laugh­ing, both from re­lief at my hav­ing thwarted death and ap­pre­ci­a­tion for hav­ing forged this strange and serendip­i­tous friend­ship.

Yes, of course, I’d love to at­tend the Faith An­gle Fo­rum, I nearly shouted into the phone. How could I not?

Miguel, as I called him, de­lighted in retelling this story — of­ten, and each time slightly more em­bel­lished. An­other decade or so and I’d have been killed in­stantly and res­ur­rected from the dead. The fo­rums, mean­while, be­came a gift to a hand­ful of jour­nal­ists in­vited to con­vene with re­li­gious schol­ars, rab­bis, imams, priests, preach­ers and prayer lead­ers. Cro­mar­tie, who was vice-pres­i­dent and director of the Ethics and Public Pol­icy Cen­ter’s Evan­gel­i­cals in Civic Life pro­gram, felt strongly that the public’s per­cep­tion of jour­nal­ists as un­friendly to­ward re­li­gion and es­pe­cially to­ward evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians, though not un­war­ranted, was a re­flec­tion of the me­dia’s lack of ex­po­sure to and un­der­stand­ing of Amer­ica’s faith­ful rather than will­ful an­i­mus.

He was, in other words, one of Wash­ing­ton’s rel­a­tively un­known elves who work dili­gently and with­out fan­fare to make the world a bet­ter place. The fo­rums, which were his bril­liant idea, were held twice a year in Key West and more re­cently Mi­ami’s South Beach. In be­tween lec­tures — a to­tal of three over a day-and-a-half — in­vi­tees con­vened for lunches, cock­tails and din­ners in­ter­spersed with free time for carous­ing, bike rid­ing — or danc­ing. Cro­mar­tie loved to dance.

There are sto­ries. Athe­ist Christo­pher Hitchens, who died nearly six years ago, was a chap­ter unto him­self. There were at least two ro­mances — then mar­riages or pend­ing nup­tials — that blos­somed over the de­bate ta­ble. Epic tales of nightlife that will re­main in the cone of si­lence, as well as ghost sto­ries told one night un­der the spell of moon­lit waves lap­ping against the dock.

Those were glo­ri­ous, fun-filled, in­tel­lec­tu­ally stim­u­lat­ing days that prob­a­bly have ben­e­fited the coun­try in­di­rectly through the en­light­en­ment of more than 220 jour­nal­ists from roughly 30 news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines and broad­cast net­works.

Cro­mar­tie, though promised an­other this ill, had fall, but when I saw him re­cently, it was clear there’d be no more un­der his watch, if at all. The rav­ages of the can­cer he had been fight­ing for more than a year were etched in his hol­low cheeks and in eyes that be­trayed a deep sad­ness. We pressed our fore­heads to­gether as if to con­nect our minds more fully, per­chance to dis­cover some elu­sive bit of in­for­ma­tion that would solve the rid­dle and re­verse the course of events.

“It’s hor­ri­ble, hor­ri­ble, just hor­ri­ble,” he whis­pered.

I doubt Cro­mar­tie feared death be­cause he was a man of en­dur­ing faith, though he may have grieved the loss of a life well-lived but not yet fin­ished. When he died Mon­day morn­ing at 67, he left a void that will be felt by hun­dreds of friends, ad­mir­ers and, of course, his fam­ily. For them — and even the greater world for which he steadily prayed — the loss is im­mea­sur­able.

And, yes, Miguel, it was a fabulous in­vi­ta­tion. The Wash­ing­ton Post

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