When things don’t fit
Are there things that don’t fit in your life? I mean besides pre-pandemic clothes. Are there things that you do, or say, or have, or think and it suddenly occurs to you, that really doesn’t fit me. So I was driving to Lawrence a few weeks ago to visit with an old friend from a former appointment, and along the way I thought, “you know, maybe I better slow down.” I know, right? That thought rarely if ever occurs to me. Is Jesus telling me there’s a Hi-Patrol ahead, if so that’s never happened before – btw, no. Does it feel like I’m getting a flat tire? It’s windy so I don’t think the wobbliness is that. Am I becoming a more mature and law-abiding driver in my aging years??? Surely NOT! But maybe? I never did quite figure out why that thought occurred to me, but I did slow down. There was no great revelation from doing so, but I still arrived on time, so there’s that.
He’s 101 years old – the friend I went to see. His wife died a few months ago and he and the pastor have asked if I would help with her service, his spouse was only 100 – I accused him of robbing the cradle. They were married 79 years, SEVENTY-NINE YEARS. Nineteen more years than I’ve been alive. He was born in 1921, right after WWI. Right after the pandemic of Spanish flu. When the Methodist Church was split over inclusion of people of color. We didn’t come back together until 1939 and didn’t open all churches for appointment to persons of color until 1968.
He served in WWII. His battalion was assigned to guard and supervise German prisoners of war. He once told me that he learned that they didn’t want to kill us any more than we wanted to kill them. They wanted to grow up, have families, acquire educations and make a life. It changed him. It changed his perspective. He stayed in touch with one of them long after the war was over. There’s a sermon in there I said, he smiled and told me to write it.
I hadn’t seen him for close to 20 years and went in wearing a mask. He knew me before I took it off and we decided we both were a sight for sore eyes, and both got a little teary. And then he said it’s hard to know where he still fits in this world without his wife. Makes sense. When you spent the first 20 years without knowing her, then the next 80 together nearly every day, feeling like nothing fits makes complete sense. 101 years and sharp as a tack, said maybe it would be easier if he wasn’t, told him I was glad he is, mostly, at least for the rest of our sakes.
Do you remember your wife wanting to give me a key to your house when I was commuting for awhile to serve the church? Just so I would have a place to go if the weather got bad or people got on my nerves? *Snort. He remembered. I refused to take it mostly because I figured I’d either lose it or lock them out of their own house by mistake someday. Plus let’s just say they kept a way more organized house than I am, so . . . it was best for all of us.
Him without her doesn’t feel like it fits, I always simply said their names together, because they simply always were. Now in a different way and not so simple. Getting old isn’t for the weak, I said. He smiled, winked, and said I had no idea, that I’m no older to him now than I was 20 years ago. There’s more to that statement than first appears. You make a difference I said to him before I left. Doesn’t much feel like it he said. Oh but you do to these youngsters that are your kids, and grands, and greats. And to the rest of us for whom your life is a light to all that can be in 101 years. Marriage and friendship, war and peace, understanding and wisdom, and a hope in and through a life lived in community with the less than perfect pastors and a church that withstood and weathered the changes with you. Oh yes, you are even yet and now a light of wisdom and hope to a grizzled old pastor for whom you also have made a difference.
I drove back from Lawrence to Olathe, minding the speed limit again, only this time because my mind was flooded with memories of oh so many things. And I thought if I’m flooded with them, what must it be like for him? There are lots of family who love the beejeezus out of him and are in quite constant contact; so many friends that check in and check up, though many have moved on to eternity; a church that still loves and cares though he can’t attend in-person anymore. All the things. And yet she isn’t there, sitting in the recliner next to him, talking about their family, and life and the world, and all the things that people married 79 years have to talk about, or sometimes simply don’t because the silence too, is comfortable. Grateful and so sad. Deep peace and the same depth of grief. 101 years of perspective and wisdom which pales in the face of mortality regardless of age. And the promise of eternity – the echoes and shades of it here, the promise of it fully in times yet to be.
Sometimes things simply don’t seem to fit – perhaps that’s a part of the heart of faith. In seminary we called it “living in the now AND the not yet” and that isn’t always the most comfortable place to be. So we walk together in the uncomfortable, best if we don’t try to fix it and simply abide and listen. Maybe if we slow down, we even hear the echoes of eternity, even amazing grace . . .