Tuesday, November 08, 2011
Swan Songs XIV--his father's tears
Stunning story, he told. It seems his father, a factory worker, attended a school society meeting one night where some man said he'd throw in a thousand dollars if others would too so that the society could add a single room to their struggling Christian school. His father hardly made a grand in three months, he said, but that night his father told his wife that he was going to the bank the next day after work to ask about a loan.
When he returned the next afternoon, he put his lunch pail on the table. His wife asked him how it went. He said his father sat down in a chair, put his head in his hands, and cried. The banker had said no. It was too big a risk for someone who made peanuts.
I love that story.
The speaker, a man named Milt Keyers, was just a kid back then, yet old enough to know that his father's tears were huge, old enough to read his father's values, values that emerged in those tears. Mr. Keyers said it was something he never, ever forgot.
Stunning story. Goes to the very depths of my heart because it's heart is they very soul of my particular people. I know old folks who could well have cried just like that, who would have bawled if they couldn't support Christian education.
It was, I say, a stunning story, and I won't forget it. It was stunning too because Mr. Keyers, the son of the man who sat at the supper table that night and cried, has made millions. He's an entrepreneur who's owned a half-dozen companies, he's a venture capitalist, and, good Lord, I'm sure he's long ago given tons more than that first thou his father couldn't, lots more, to Christian education.
It's a story from my tribe, and you can call it parochial. I know it is. He wasn't crying for inner city missions or starving children in Africa. That old factory worker wasn't crying because he couldn't support clean air or the pro-life movement or some work group to Mississippi. He was crying because he couldn't support the cause that most moved his soul--the Christian education of his own children. Like I said, for better or for worse, the story goes to the very heart of my people. And I love it. I'm proud of it.
I'm in the crowd yesterday, down the middle of the aisle, and right in front of me are four students required to attend the lecture. That's how such things work here, and that's okay. But compulsion can be an enemy of will, of course, as I well know. Two of them are lovers. She's got her head on his shoulder, which is sweet. But it's clear they're obsessed with each other. I doubt they heard the story.
Another couple in front of me isn't eating each other up, but he has his laptop open because he's supposed to be taking notes for class, and he does, once in a while, type in some things behind a series of bullet points on his screen. But mostly he's on Facebook, although he also played a couple of games of solitaire, losing every time, which I considered a blessing.
It seems to me, an old bald man ready to call in the bears, Elisha-like, that not one of the four of them really could give a shit. Pardon my French.
Really, however, the story wasn't just about Christian education, although that was the reason I loved it, I think. The story was much bigger than its own parochialism or my ethnic pride. It was about commitment and obedience. Milt Keyers' father bawled because he couldn't do what he thought the Lord himself wanted him to do. He may have been wrong about that, but then so have I--and probably you too. He was trying to be. in his very limited way, little more than obedient.
That's what I wanted those kids in front of me to hear. Obedience.
But I don't know that anyone can really teach that level of value in a lecture. I don't know that people--any of us and certainly our students--ever learn grace itself from a book, not even a Bible. Those four kids were pretty stony ground yesterday in the B. J. Haan. But tomorrow, who knows?--something may well happen in their young lives to make them into startlingly fertile soil, something may well happen to prompt them to churn up their own tears. Something will happen sometime--of that I'm sure--to make all four of them the listeners they weren't yesterday morning.
I know. I've been around education forever it seems. That's the way it goes.
And then there's this, a kind of footnote.
When my father died, I was up front of the receiving line before the funeral, along with my sisters and my mother. A silver-haired man came up--I didn't know him--and took my hand, extended his warm sympathies. He introduced himself as Milt Keyers.
I knew the name and the man's immensely wonderful reputation for giving. I was stunned. I'd never met him before, but he'd driven up the lakeshore to Oostburg, Wisconsin, from his home in Milwaukee.
My father was no entrepeneur. For most of his life, he worked in the office of a factory.
Mr. Keyers said he'd heard about my father's death and wanted to honor him. He said for years they'd worked together on Christian education.
After yesterday's lecture, I understand even better why he came up the lakeshore that day the way he did. After all, there was that matter of his father's tears.
I guess maybe yesterday the old bald guy in the middle of the pew was especially fertile soil.