Monday, November 07, 2016
Morning Thanks--two old men
Whether or not I like it, I've arrived at the age where it's possible to attend two visitations for the dead within an hour, as I did yesterday, drove right from one to another, might have walked if I'd had more time.
I'd be surprised if the deceased knew each other. They'd spent most their years in different communities, would have had no reason to cross paths, save in the Home where they both came eventually to claim residence. Both men left behind significant legacies of community service, both were deeply and sincerely religious. At their respective funerals today, both families have written "How Great Thou Art" into the liturgy. If you stop what you're doing sometime this morning and listen, you may well hear that old Bev Shea favorite rise from two churches little more than a few blocks apart.
Truth be told, I didn't know either of them well. I was not a long-time friend or even acquaintance. But both men left a mark on me because each of them, at one time or another, told me his life story. I know them only as characters in the yarns they spun about their own lives, but I have no reason to believe their stories were anything less than honest.
One of them lived a the quintessential rags-to-riches life. relatively speaking. He grew up poor, his Depression-era parents hopscotching across the country, looking for a place in the sun, twelve kids in tow. Kids learn either to adjust to that hardscrabble way of life or they quit it, one way or another, altogether. This son stuck with it and by the sweat of his brow made a real living, eventually did well. Worked hard, loved his kids and family, and, by the grace of God (he'd say), took hold of his bootstraps and got to his feet.
The other was more privileged in a small-town way. His father was a banker, who found his son a place when his son, a fighter pilot, returned from World War II. He'd gone to college in the late 30s, as few of his era did or could; and he married a war bride in a love story worthy of Hollywood. The two of them moved to Chicago once he was out, decided his father's burg wasn't big enough for them until one day his father made him an offer he couldn't refuse.
Both of the deceased had arrived at a place in their lives where even they would admit it was time to go. There were only a few tears at either visitation, which doesn't mean there haven't been any since both of them died. Or will be today at two funerals.
I hadn't spent much time with either of them, hadn't worked with or for them either. We weren't related in any sense at all, other than by our mutual faith. At those visitations, I didn't hug family members, didn't even speak to all of them, didn't know most of them.
But I did stand there in front of both bodies for a while, each of them handsomely laid out, white shirt and ties, in his own velvety coffin, and I couldn't help thinking once again how perfectly still the dead really are. No matter how relieved the sorrowing might be when the end finally arrives, death doesn't look good on anyone. Both seemed so much alone.
Last night the scripture was drawn from the Believer's Hall of Fame, Hebrews 11, where the first real hero is humanity's first murder victim--Abel, brother of the forever-marked Cain.
"By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did," Paul says. "By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings." And then this line which went over well the evening after two prolonged moments of silence that afternoon. "And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead."
I found that comforting.
So today, if you're in the neighborhood, sometime this morning just drop what you're doing and listen. Better yet, sing.
This morning I'm thankful for two old men who, right now, may well be smiling and telling each other their stories.