Three men have my writer’s brain all stimulated.
I’ve had the kind of month where nothing happened as I had planned and the whirlwind-ish-ness of it all would have overwhelmed me had I known it was coming. LOTS of travel time sprung up out of nowhere and we found ourselves on the road a lot. On the days in-between, we managed eye doctor appointments, and haircuts, and kept the lawn mowed while squeezing in sunny swim days at the beach and other such loveliness.
And three men in their twilight years crept into our lives and left some mighty big and indelible imprints that none of us will ever forget.
Man #1: Due to several wrong turns and a flat tire, my daughter and family found themselves sweltering in a hot car on a 90+ degree day in the middle of nowhere at all. They had been headed to the beach to swim, and instead, found themselves alongside the road looking for cell service to call for help. Help arrived in the form of our family and my sweet man promptly began removing the offensive tire while the girls kept our beautifully air-conditioned car running for pregnant mom and baby. Suddenly, while we were parked alongside the rural road, another small car came by, squealed its tires and quickly stopped just behind us alongside the side of the road. It wasn’t long before an elderly man approached from said-car with a smile asking if we could make a call for him as his car had ceased to move forward and his cell phone wasn’t working. He had taken his wife for a ride on a perfect summer day to the lake on an outing from the nursing home in which she resides. He, being 93, didn’t know what to do when his car stopped as he had his small dog and ailing wife, and wasn’t sure he felt like walking down the road for help on a sweltering day the several miles it would have been to find assistance. We had water in the car for his wife and a working cell phone to call both his daughter and a wrecker, and our families made a connection that day. He said we were angels. We were just where God had put us at just the right moment unbelievably in the exact right place. What are the odds?
The next one is much harder to talk about.
Man #2: We were celebrating my birthday and we were out of town. My best friend was along for the ride and we were pretty much on cloud nine having the most fun ever. We all cleaned up to go to dinner and my sweet man picked the place. There was some doubt about the meal to come as the restaurant of choice was a supper club. Not familiar? A northern midwest tradition from decades past, supper clubs are mostly gone except, apparently, this one which came with stellar reviews. Promising us hearty, homestyle food in true brown-paneled-wall, dark-carpeted, supper club style we all put cute clothes over our happily sunburned skin and headed to dinner. Soups, drinks, and salads arrived at our table and just as grandbaby girl got started coloring her placemat, a man collapsed on the floor facedown right next to our table. We believe he had a heart attack. The sights and sounds that followed will probably never leave our minds. There was a doctor in the supper club who was able to administer CPR until help arrived. For the seven of us at the table, we wept and prayed as the second hand slowed to practically a standstill. Eventually, we were able to leave until the crisis was over. We know there was a pulse when he left via ambulance. The entire restaurant was subdued and in disarray. Eventually, we were able to find a new table in a different room and salvage the evening somewhat — all the while praying for a strange man who we learned was visiting the area alone with no family nearby — his wife was thousands of miles away. We don’t know why we were there for this awful moment in his life, but we definitely know we approached the throne of Jesus on his behalf.
Man #3: This one is our family patriarch. My sweet man has remarkable grandparents. They inspire us daily. Anyone who knows his grandfather would say they’ve never seen a man who demonstrated health and vigor and energy as amazingly as he has. He is ninety and it was just last summer that he and his lovely wife came to visit us and bless our new home. He had always wanted to come here and we took him to the top of a mountain at the top of our country to see the view of a lifetime. While there, in his usual form, grandpa took off on foot to find a bike rental. He had every intention of biking the mountain. I have to say that it didn’t happen. I still regret that none of the rest of us youngsters felt up to biking a mountain that day. I regret it because I have a feeling he would have, could have, wanted to, and because of us, didn’t. This man biked miles a day all through his eighties. He raised a family jam-packed with love. He adores his wife, and she, him. Last month, he had a few health concerns and we found it important to drive to see him. Though the doctors have their words to say, we still see feisty grandpa getting up to water the plants on his first day home from his hospital stay. We hear him laugh and tell stories, perhaps a bit fewer than before, but still, he is present and capable, and we thoroughly enjoyed an afternoon visiting with him. Our time in prayer as a family is something I will never forget. He had his nurse read us an article, yellowed with age that Grandma had carefully cut from the paper in 1958. “I didn’t know you had read that!” Grandma exclaimed. He had, and he found it important for us, his kids and grandkids, to know what the last line said. It went something like this:
Where is the sting of death if the seeds of love we’ve planted will be remembered?
After those words had been read, Grandpa simply stated, “I’m at peace.”
The sting of death. So aptly put. Even when we know the eternal outcome, there is the sting. There is also the sting before the end. There is the sting of a man unable to be as able-bodied as he has been.
These moments brought no shortage of discussion in our home and family as my sweet man contemplates aging and how it would feel to arrive at those late ages and in each of those circumstances. Man #1, unable to take care of things without help from someone younger. Man #2, incapacitated due to health problems and all alone in the world. Man #3, having done what a man comes to this earth to do and having done it well and with honor, surrounded by love grown from planted seeds to a veritable jungle of the stuff.
These are men. Men once powerful in both body and spirit, now forced to be dependent on others for everyday things. Men, who fought in wars and fathered children and led families. The same that labored to provide and suffered loss and defeat and rose to face yet another challenge. Men, now looking into the deepest places, facing mortality head on, much as they faced life once upon a time.
This is what these three men have in common. They’ve thought it all through. They’ve had the time and years to ponder what it all means. They’ve had a life partner with which they’ve most certainly discussed how things would be if they got to this point. This isn’t a surprise to them.
It can be the surprise of death that gets us. None of us want to be caught off guard in losing someone or our own selves. We’d all prefer to have lived it, accomplished it, done it well, and then…well, then what? Are we ever ready? Can we say today that we did what we were here to do?
The things that matter can be pared way down. In fact, it wasn’t long ago that I came to the conclusion that it all boiled down to one gigantic, little word.
Love given, and love received.
Before you write that off as cliché, just give it a moment. No degree, no amount of knowledge or accomplishment, no achievement or hard work, no wealth acquired or name in lights matters one whit if one didn’t love those around them. The seeds of love planted, that simple, complex task so full of promise is ALL that matters. Added to the certainty Grandpa has in the One in Whom his future rests, all is truly well with his soul. It’s as it should be.
I’ve learned a bit these last few weeks. I feel younger, though I got older, and I feel more responsible to see each day as a gift. The fragility of life is imprinted on my heart. I’m thankful for the certainty of my future, though I know nothing of what it holds. I’m glad to know love and to have found its relevance and eternal value. I’m thankful for examples of love and life and legacy. I feel compelled to share this with you, my friends so that perhaps you are inspired, as we were, to consider this day — what it is that holds value to you — and how it will hold up in the end. Strip it all down, and find the barest part of who you are and if you don’t love its reflection, perhaps do some tweaking. The things we hold high can suddenly look rather unimportant, can’t they? Look into some eyes around you. Think past this day and its cares and decide that you will invest well. Plant some seeds.