REMEMBERING MY FRIEND, KIM JOHNSON
Every once in a while in life we are blessed to meet a deeply spiritual person. There is a common misunderstanding about what it means to be a “deeply spiritual person.” Many people think that such a person is someone who is expressive, if not outspoken, about their faith and their beliefs. They believe a deeply spiritual person is someone who has great certainty rather than doubts, and is fond of quoting scripture or praying in public.
Make no mistake, there are many spiritual folks who do fit this perception. But the most deeply spiritual people I have met in my life are people who live their faith rather than talk about it, search for the truth in response to doubts and uncertainty, and whose lives are prayers in action, rather than words.
One of these deeply spiritual people I have been blessed to share life with was my dear friend Kim Johnson.
Kim was a PK (preacher’s kid) like me. He was a lifelong Presbyterian who attended Idlewild Presbyterian Church every Sunday. But on Saturdays, he was often at the Synagogue with his Jewish friends. And on other days, he was at a Mosque with his Muslim friends.
Kim’s life was a deeply spiritual search for truth.
On one occasion, Kim was flying on a commercial airliner, and a passenger sitting next to him – a stranger to Kim – began to talk with him about her strong religious beliefs.
Kim listened politely but said nothing. After a while the woman asked him, “Are you saved?”
Kim replied, “Yes, I am.”
With a smile on her face, the woman said, “That’s great! And when were you saved?”
In his characteristic soft voice, Kim responded, “I’m not exactly sure of the date. I understand it was sometime around 2,000 years ago.”
When Kim shared the story with me, he laughed and said, “She did not find that a satisfactory answer.”
I told Kim it was a beautiful answer. A deeply spiritual one.
Kim’s life was a spirited one. He was a spirited football player and track star (a state champion) at Central High School in Memphis.
He was a spirited President of his fraternity at Ole Miss and Treasurer of the Student Body.
After graduating from Ole Miss, he enlisted in the Marines and was a part of the Semper Fi spirit. He was a Vietnam combat veteran, and his experience in the service of this country was no doubt a spiritual one in an unsettling and challenging sense.
After Vietnam, he came home and married his Ole Miss girlfriend, Judy, and then enrolled at Vanderbilt University Law School where he excelled academically and was an editor of the Vanderbilt Law Review.
He then returned to his hometown of Memphis where he took his spirit into courtrooms as an advocate. He was a fearless and determined voice for his clients, particularly in the medical profession. He became widely known in Tennessee as “the doctor’s lawyer,” and he richly deserved the title.
He and Judy had two sons, and he began to live out his spiritual life as a nurturing, loving and caring father.
And then something extraordinary happened in the life of this deeply spiritual man. Kim had often reflected that when he returned from Vietnam in 1967, he hoped to never again have anything to do with that nation or its people. But as Kim would laugh and say, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.” Kim’s son, Albert, married a beautiful Vietnamese-American woman. They gave Kim two beautiful grandchildren. And Kim and Judy adopted a beautiful little Vietnamese-American girl, Maria.
Kim was bemused by the fact that although he once vowed to never again have anything to do with Vietnam, he was now the father and grandfather of Vietnamese-American children.
An integral part of Kim’s wonderful spirit was his mischievous sense of humor. He loved to play elaborate pranks on his law partners, associates, assistants, and friends. And if you were the victim of one of Kim’s schemes, you felt his love. He only committed those pranks on people he deeply cared about.
And if you were one of those victims, you knew something else. You knew if you ever had a crisis in your life, he would be there for you in advocacy and action.
His life was prayer in action.
Kim passed away on Tuesday after a brief illness. He was 75 years old.
Kim left behind a legacy for his family and friends. It was a deeply spiritual legacy of love, laughter, a search for the truth, and faith in action rather than words.