Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Home Going

A death, long expected, yet still somehow impossible to prepare for. A neighbor for many years, old before his time. A crusty character, as stubborn as any old farmer you will ever find.

A giant-print Gideon Bible given while he was in the hospital and a question asked by the giver. Eighty years of stubbornness did not fall away that day, but a new life started. For just a couple of years he has lived that new life, slowly changing from the inside out. There are reconciliations that have not happened. He had not progressed so far. My clumsy efforts to bring two sides together had found no fertile ground in which to grow.

So many memories. So many times in their home. They babysat our girls for years, both of them in ill health. His wife, a strong Christian, loving without reservation. Him also, loving our girls, masking it by teasing. It was a good home for them to spend many hours in, though he was not always an easy man to like.

I wonder if he is puttering in a garden in Heaven even as I write these words, still astonished to be there, a hand reaching down to touch his amputated leg – now restored. I wonder if he is flexing his knees, overwhelmed by freedom from pain, looking for the familiar wheelchair or canes, feeling the loss and delighting in it. I wonder if he as started a half dozen times to spout off about some politician, then stopped, his mind tripping over some startling GOOD thought about that person.

What does Heaven look like through the eyes of a crusty old man? What does a man experience who has not taken a pain-free step in half a century – when he finds himself more alive than ever before?

Death – it takes us by surprise, and it bears its share of pain. But the one thing it is not and cannot be is the final chapter in life’s story.

I wish I could be there for his send-off. I’ll be working the day of his funeral, unable to attend. The temptation to slip a piece of cardboard wrapped in foil in a Cadbury milk-chocolate wrapper into the casket would be strong. He delighted in giving my daughters such a “gift.”

He is home now, and though there is reason for sorrow, there is also reason to rejoice. And who knows, since I’m getting older and crustier myself, I may learn before too long what Heaven looks like through the eyes of a crusty old man. Maybe I’ll even putter with him in the garden a bit.

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