Monday, March 27, 2017
The two of us were asked to speak at the funeral of a mutual friend, to remember him, to eulogize him. I was proud to have been asked. I'm sure he was too.
The funeral was out of town, so we drove together to an old church our mutual friend had started attending when he and his ideas no longer found welcome in the other one, the one where he'd spent many years.
That funeral was the very first time I suspected the words coming out of this friend of mine weren't quite in a line. He'd been my friend and colleague for years, my teacher before that, a man with the shoulders of a mason, a man who quoted the poetry he loved, reams of it. Several books he wrote are sitting on our shelves.
Something was unglued in what he said that morning, and that scared me. It wasn't what he said, it was how; the ideas jarred, didn't run like they should have, almost left the track.
The man I listened to in that little church that morning wasn't the Mike I knew. Something had gone slightly adrift in those few moments, and I knew it.
We talked all the way up to the church, and then again on the way home. Since we were close, I told him I wanted to see the farm place where he grew up, part of an oversized Iowa farm family I knew from his myriad tales, a family mostly dirt poor--but proud and pious. We drove around on gravel roads to find it, and I heard at least a dozen more stories.
I remember some--the time he and his buddies skipped church and went to a county fair where one of his friends put him up to take on some side-show wrestler who'd give any takers ten bucks if they'd best him. Mike was just a kid, but he got into the ring and walked out ten bucks richer.
One of the stories I remember had to do with his mother. Her senility was profound, he'd said. It got to the point that she couldn't recognize her own children when they came to visit. Nothing seemed to register, he'd said. But somewhere in that locked-up mind there was music, the old hymns. If her children would sit in her room and start into "Beneath the Cross of Jesus," he said his mother's lips would move because somehow the words were there. Maybe the only remnant of a long and fruitful farm life with a backyard full of kids were a few lines of a couple of hymns she never stopped singing.
There are nearly 3000 posts in this blog. I dare say a search might well turn up variations on that very story a half-dozen times because the story of his mother's singing found a place in my soul.
Yesterday--Sunday--I sat in front of him at a comprehensive care facility in a worship service he slept through, crumpled up in a wheelchair. He's become his mother. After the service I tried to greet him. He didn't look up. I just hoped he'd heard the music.
The man we'd eulogized together--he too was a story-teller. One night he got to talking about this friend of ours and said he'd never, ever forget the day Mike came back from college with a girl, a knock-out, a real dish from back east somewhere all the girls were blonde and beautiful. "I'll never forget that," he said, "because all of us were green jealous because there she sat right beside him in that car, you know--before seat belts--sat right there next to him, that little pony tail just tossing back and forth as they drove down the street."
That story I remember, too.
She was there too yesterday, sitting there with him at the worship service in the Home. She doesn't have a pony tail, but she's still beautiful.
I don't think there are words for all of this really. I don't know how to understand what's there. I know she'd say herself that her Mike is already gone, that the man she knew as a husband and father, and I knew as a friend and colleague, is no longer here. I don't know what to say about an ex-wrestler who can no longer sit straight in a chair, or a poet who's lost the use of language. I don't know how to understand any of that.
But I know the woman sitting beside him, the girl in the pony trail, deserves every square inch of blessed grace the Lord can bestow upon her as she attends a man she once loved and, in a way none of us probably understands, still does. This morning I'm thankful for her--and a million other beloved caregivers who give their lives to men and women they won't and can't stop loving, even when so much of what those loved ones were has already departed.
May the words of those old hymns we sang in that worship service move their lips too.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:51 AM