“O you who hears prayer,
to you all men will come.” Psalm 65:2
The man played a significant role in my life from the moment I bought a book of his, a novel that subsequently altered the courses of my life. To him, actually, I need to attribute most every blip that runs across the screen in front of me. I was interested in writing before I read his novel, but when I came to the last page of his, I was sure I wanted, someday, to write books.
Was he a Christian? I don’t know. He was liberally educated in the Christian tradition. His formal education was undertaken in schools that defined themselves as Christian. His mother was devout, ever close to the Lord. His father was the son of an atheist, but, warmed by the joy of his wife’s faith, became devout himself.
But the real matrix of his life was the difficult years of the American Depression, the intellectual world into which he walked once he’d graduated from college—union struggles on the East coast, where he fell into company with the folks who became what we used to call “leftists,” the kind Sen. McCarthy, a couple decades later, would seek to out and purge from all government positions. In the company he kept during the American Depression, it would have been impossible for him not be among those who were, quite simply, communist. Many, many thinking people were. He was “thinking people,” as proud as he was ambitious to merit that descriptor. He loved ideas.
I’m quite sure that his own character was created by a world in which the Christian religion of his youth and education was considered scant residue of primitive notions that soon would simply disappear. He was, without question, what we could call today, a modernist.
Even more, he was a free thinker. He used to tell me that the two most important writers of early
England were Geoffrey Chaucer and
John Gower. He loved Chaucer, because
Chaucer chased the story wherever it went, interested only in truth. Gower, he said, wanted only to preach. Chaucer loved every last pilgrim, including
the Wife of Bath, loved the feel of dirt in his fingers, an earthiness my
friend knew growing up as a farm boy on the edge of the Great Plains.
Once was upbraided at a family dinner when an aunt chided him for sexual explicitness. In the barn with the men later, one of those who’d been silent at dinner told him how much he loved the passage on page whatever—“when that guy and that girl. . .”
Was my friend a believer? I don’t know. He became, in many ways, a kind of father figure, and I remember once, before he died, when he said I was more talented than he was at my age. I’ll never forget that.
Was he a believer? I don’t know. When he was dying, his children made it clear that they wouldn’t allow any local do-gooder missionaries into his room; their father’s IQ was 150, they said, meaning he was above such silliness.
But the morning he died—and I have this from an unimpeachable witness—the nurse who was attending him noted his agitation. “Can I pray with you?” she asked him.
He said yes, and they did.
I’m not a universalist, and neither was David. What he promises here in verse two of Psalm 65 is really praise to the Lord. I know that.
But I also know that my friend, on his deathbed, came, on his knees, before the throne. And that fact—that story—brings me great joy.