John J. “Bing” Long Jr.
GOODBYE OUR BELOVED LEGEND
Each of us are fortunate who come from good families. I think most families in Cumberland, Maryland fall into that category. My parents always said that Cumberland is a very special place. Surrounded by the power of magnificent mountain ranges, the people of Cumberland seem to gain strength from the mountainous terrain. But few people are lucky enough to grow up with a self-professed super natural human being who was also legendary. He was legendary not only to each one of his family but actually every family that lived in Cumberland from 1941 when he made his grand entrance to the earth with the wind howling, blustery wind, blinding snowstorm that preceded his first cries on this earth and which almost prevented his being born in a hospital. His exit would prove to be much the same. Not in a blustery snowstorm but with the same frantic howling and blinding tears. But not before he became a legend to everyone he would be meet during the next 82 years. And he was definitely on his way to becoming a legend. He already had nearly missed his delivery along with the doctors and nurses who could not get to the hospital because of storm that had announced his arrival. But true to fashion this legend made his dramatic entrance as the first born on New Years Day at twelve o’clock midnight. Unlike other legends, our legend had nothing remarkable about him other than marking the time of his birth and the fact that it was a new beginning for everyone else who celebrated the brand new year. In time, his birth would prove to be a new beginning for all of the least of God’s children. But he had work to do first. He had to change a whole city and then be the inspiration for the rest of our nation. This was a huge challenge for such a little guy but he knew God had specifically designed him for this challenge. He was a legend in the making.
Our legend was different than most. He was born blind in one eye that sort of looked at his nose instead of being able to look at you. He could not turn over nor crawl nor coo for several years after birth. He lay still. He did not move. The doctors had never seen a baby so motionless before. My parents were desperate for answers. Their sadness made them more determined to find help. But in the 1940s and 1950s there were no government agencies to help them nor any medical answers that could help explain their first born child’s disabilities.
Little did they know at that time, their son who was born depleted of any physical or mental abilities was born with something they could not see nor even begin to imagine. He had an inner strength that would propel himself and others who would follow like him into a new beginning, the like of which only could have resembled the blustering snowstorm that he had arrived with on this earth. And for that, none of us were prepared.
While they searched for answers, he grew stronger and stronger. With each challenge, he would surpass most obstacles not in an ordinary way but his way. But then a legend is someone who leaves behind an unforgettable impression on others. Our legend touched every life he ever met. Just do not ask him “the word”of the day. Because he will tell you and leave you blushing. But thunderous laughter will most certainly follow as he leaves you helplessly standing there wondering how you had just perpetuated such a firestorm of contagious energy. Of course, only after you had just given him your very last dollar. Whether he had hitched a ride with our very kind milkman, at the same time we were frantically searching for him or had already left our milkman and propositioned instead our neighborhood bus drive and smiled as he drove by intentionally thrilled he had escaped mother’s watchful eye. One thing was certain, he was capable of touching every human being he came into contact with. And what’s more amazing, he was easily enriching their lives through his gregarious laughter and contagious energy. He never met a stranger.
Our legend accumulated nothing materialistic on this earth. He came into it bald and blind. He left it the same. But not without touching every single person’s life as he traveled free in city buses, yellow top cabs and even on the back of a fire engine, many ambulances and insisted on burying every single relative of ours riding in the front seat of the hearse. What normally was a sad time, we would hear nothing but laughter coming from the black sullen death vehicle. His big heart and even bigger personality personified our legend. Single handedly he lifted up every human life in came into contact with and single handedly opened our eyes and our hearts. He taught it that it was okay to be born different. We all are. And it took our legend to get our city, and then other counties to get moving so that others who were born differently, whether that be in the form of disabilities or nationalities, white, black, yellow or whatever, it did not matter. We are all the same on the inside. And that is where it really matters. He lifted up each one of us. He lit up the world. And along with his parents, Margaret and John Long, and his other mentally disabled brother, Stevie, they became Friends Aware. Along with other inspired parents, Friends Aware was born February 14, 1954.
One year ago, my brother Michael and I and our family sadly said goodbye to one of our angels. Stevie, whose impact on this earth was just as meaningful but with less emphatic shenanigans, left us devastated and lost. He had been our shadow and strength for as long as we could remember. It had always been the four of us against a world that was not ready for a family so different in the 40s and 50s. And to have a legend in our midst who was the first to demand change, made our social revolution even more challenging.
Today, our family stand humbly and grateful to each one of you, Cumberland. And to our God as we returned our legend back to him. Bing will live forever in our hearts and that of a city who adopted him as their very own. With his uncanny yet persuasive strong demeanor and loud outrageous endearments towards each one of us, he single handedly changed our hearts and taught us the true meaning of life. It does not matter what you own materially. The only thing that matters is how you love each other and how willing you are to share that love.
Thank you Cumberland for loving our little legend Stevie and our bigger than life legend Bing. And as he would say to each of us: “Cumberland! Friends Aware is YOU.” You built it! Please continue to grow stronger in your honor and that of your great families. As our parents always believed Cumberland, Maryland is Friends Aware. And it will stand forever as a tribute to each one of you!
A Celebration of “Bing’s” Life will be held Thursday, April 6, 2023 at 5:00 PM in the Friends Aware LEC cafeteria, Cumberland, everyone is welcome to attend.