Punch was a handsome living sermon with a silver ponytail.
When I married in 2011, I asked my old friends Punch and Casey Woods to send me a picture from their wedding more than half a century ago because my bride and I wanted to create a slideshow of images of enduring commitment for our reception.
Sure enough, Charles “Punch” Woods sent us an iconic image of the ultimate hippie couple setting out to imitate Christ in a VW long before the Summer of Love.
In 1418, in a stone cold world lit by torches, Thomas a Kempis penned “The Imitation of Christ.” In the 60s, many aimed equally high.
Punch, 82, fell off his horse, died Wednesday and made me sob. The lucky man was married 59 years to the same fine woman, a woman I met a century ago when she invited this cartoonist to address her middle school students at Safford K-8.
Lean, energetic, full of life and love for her students I wondered what spring Casey Woods was tapping. Over the years I saw firsthand how she and Punch nurtured each other’s spirits with relentless humor. Casey is one hell of an impressive matriarch, a delightfully snarky and energetic force for good.
Casey, what a glorious run of good deeds you two have done together. The waters continue to ripple out.
Around about two-thousand years ago, or so, Paul, who became Saul, fell from his horse on a road to Damascus. Legend has it his redeemer came to him and assigned him a mission to feed men’s souls. Punch was always on a mission, inspired by the credo a reformed tax collector once heard a sage carpenter speak into the ear of history. “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”
Punch began in this desert with Tucson Metropolitan Ministries and ended up shepherding the Community Food bank in seasons of plenty and seasons of want. Mostly want.
In another desert the devil said to a Nazarene, “If you are God’s son turn this stone into bread.” In spite of his hunger the son of man informed Lucifer, “Man does not live by bread alone.”
Punch devoured the bread of life. Punch had the gritty kind of grace that drives men into the deserts of want. Into the poverty of Mexico. Into the hunger of Arizona’s underbelly. Into building a food bank in this wilderness.
And lo, Punch built it brick by brick, like a fever dream Mennonite-Amish barn builder, with the same charm and vigor with which a young Sidney Poitier “built him a chapel!” in a fictional desert that looked suspiciously like east Tucson in the 1963 film “Lilies of the Field.”
Every day of his life you sensed that Punch considered the lilies of the field, how they grew. He knew they toiled not, neither did they spin. Punch knew God would provide as long as you worked at it 24/7. I say unto you that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like the humble soul of Punch Woods.
I like to imagine Punch humming the spiritual “Amen” to himself with every square foot he added to the Community Food Bank.
“Singing in the temple, talking with the elders Who marveled at His wisdom.
See Him at the seaside, talking with the fishermen And made them disciples.”
Punch brought disciples of all faiths and no faiths to service at his food bank. The man was a gifted fisher of men and women when it came to fishing for favors, blessings, Mitzvahs, good deeds, kindnesses for the Lord’s children, those in want, the least, those we shall have with us always.
We all have stories of the time we were cajoled, hooked and snared into performing acts of virtue by the Old Pueblo’s pony-tailed pied piper of altruism.
Before I knew it I was cranking out a bazillion caricatures of local celebs to accompany their recipes for a recipe book that Punch had concocted as a fundraiser. “Padre Kino’s Cookbook.” It did well.
“Marching in Jerusalem! Over palm branches, In pomp and splendor!
See Him in the garden, praying to His Father. In deepest sorrow.
Led by Pilate, then they crucified Him, But He rose on Easter!”
These days Punch called to mind a cross between a white-haired Peter Fonda and a west-side Fred Rogers. At lunch we talked about the world, the suffering and Mexican comic books. As I listened I basked in the reassuring lamp of my friend’s abiding kindness. Punch kept his lamp lit even in darkness.
Thank you for the Easter sermon you struggled to live every day of your beautiful life, Punch.
Peace, love and joy. Now that’s mantra, brother.
David Fitzsimmons: email@example.com.
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