An old friend of mine is dying. I learned the news just this week and the truth is, I didn’t even know he was sick. Cancer. We were a part of the same church back in Atlanta. Then they moved, we moved a couple of times and we lost touch. Still, I was deeply saddened to hear that hospice has been called in.
If you have some relationships that have atrophied due to distance or time or whatever, it would be good to reach out and reconnect. The unexpected turn in life is not a bug. It’s a feature.
He and his wife are as solid as they come. They were firm parents, but always fair, and raised two really good kids. We could use more like them. Fair, firm parents, I mean, but well-raised kids, too. Not always, but those two things tend to show up together.
I remember where they sat in Sunday church; back right corner of the auditorium as you looked out from the podium. I remember he had a quick smile and an easy laugh that betrayed a bit of mischief. I remember, too, that she pretty much had his number. More than once, I saw her give him that wordless look that wives who are married to waggish men learn to perfect. It’s a that’s-enough-from-you-mister look and it usually works.
My most poignant memory involves, of all things, a bottle of water. We were sitting in the family room of their home. He stepped into the kitchen and as he did, she asked him, “Would you bring me a water?” Just before he handed it to her – he twisted the cap to break the seal. I can still hear the tiny plastic tabs breaking – click, click, click.
“Thank you,” she said. But not in a surprised kind of way as if that level of micro courtesy was on display just because the preacher was visiting. No, the exchange was routine. Normal. A tiny but well-practiced little step in their marital dance.
Our cultural story tellers – the song writers, novelists and movie makers – have convinced us that love is at its best when it is expressed through the grand, the ultimate and the heroic. Love certainly shines in such moments – especially when backed by a stirring soundtrack. And it is true that Jesus once said the greatest love is when you lay down your life for a friend.
But he also celebrated the beauty of an extra mile walked. A prayer quietly lifted. An undeserved mercy extended. A cup of cold water given. Little things that no one but the recipient would notice. And maybe not even then. But God notices.
Ever since I saw my friend twist that cap, opening a bottle of water has been for me a kind of Pavlovian prompt. When I hear the click, click, click, I remember that love is not always monumental, herculean or resplendent. Often – nearly always – love is the simple gesture, the small kindness, the pocket-sized favors we do for each other every day.
I am certain my friend is surrounded by that kind of love in these last days. I like to imagine that when he finally crosses to the other side and sees Jesus, all of heaven will be waiting to welcome him. Someone will count 3 – 2 – 1! Then they’ll all simultaneously twist the caps off bottles of water and heaven will roar with joyous laughter.