Based on the number of missed telephone calls and subsequent messages I receive, I spend way too much of my time in meetings. One day last week, I missed a call from an old (maybe long-term) friend is better terminology. He and I were at Hardin-Simmons in Abilene together. At any rate, when I called him back, I could tell from the tone of his voice that something was wrong. “Are you okay?” was the first question out of my mouth. He responded: “I’m doing better.”
Immediately my anxiety went up a couple of notches. He and I have been friends for the past 50 years and although we don’t have contact often, he continues to be an important person in the circle of those I hold dear. I immediately replied: “What do you mean you’re doing better?” He said: “I had surgery twenty days ago.”
I don’t know what came over me. Perhaps if you knew the kind of banter the two of us have shared across the years, you’d understand. I don’t know where the thought came from, but I announced boldly, “Well, if you’ve had surgery, I certainly hope it was cosmetic!” He managed a faint laugh and said, “It was”.
I was greatly relieved. He went on to tell me he had opted for gastric bypass surgery. It wasn’t because he wanted to look nineteen years old again. It had more to do with the advantages associated with lightening up. When he told me what he now weighs, I almost asked for his doctor’s name. It wouldn’t hurt me to lighten up either.
As we visited by telephone and relived some of the times from long ago, his voice tone changed into a more upbeat and hopeful sound. I started to tell him that talking to me was good medicine. We only talked ten or fifteen minutes, but his spirit was lighter. I could tell from the sound of his voice.
My friend retired from banking several years ago and now lives in an apartment adjacent to the home in which he grew up. It is located in a small town between Houston and Galveston. He mentioned that he has been working part time for a cruise line out of Galveston. He said, “I’ve met some really neat people and I like the work.” He also threw in the concept that the employee discount made his random cruises more affordable.
Before we terminated our conversation, I told him I’d be praying for him and that he needed to get well soon. As a side note, I said: “I can’t give you the time off to die. You are important to me and most of my memories of you are good.” He immediately asked for clarification. He wanted to know: “What do you mean by most?”
I was ready for his question and had an immediate answer. “Remember back, the year was 1981. As I recall, you suggested that the new car I wanted was a 1981 Oldsmobile 98 diesel”. You and your dad had just purchased one and all you had to share about it was praise. It was my first luxury car. Even to this day, I remember the fender skirts and the smell of that leather interior. It was a really nice car, but it proved not to be dependable transportation to get one from point A to point B. I had the car for nine months and the car was in the shop nine weeks during that time. It is difficult to have a rebuttal for facts. He laughed and said: “Oh how well I remember.”
As luck would have it, I missed another telephone call from my friend again yesterday. Once again, I was in a meeting. At any rate, he has been on my mind this week. In addition to remember praying for him, I thought back to the first luxury car he purchased. It was not the 1981 Oldsmobile 98 diesel he purchased before I bought mine. He was sporting luxury on wheels long before I ever dreamed that I would one day drive a nice car. BTW – Let there be NO mistake. The 1981 Olds 98 diesel was not a nice car.
Treva and I were living in San Angelo at the time. My friend came from Houston for a weekend visit. You’ll never guess what he was driving. It was unbelievable! He was driving a brand new 1971 Lincoln Continental Marc IV. Interestingly, it was about the same shade of the green as the 1971 four-door (very married looking) Bonneville Pontiac I was driving. The Lincoln Marc IV carried with it a successful persona in a class all unto its own.
My friend thought he had pulled a fast one over on his dad. He failed to mention to him that he had bought another car. Although he went home almost every weekend, he never drove his new car. He drove the old one. I don’t know how many months later, his dad broached the subject. He asked, “Aren’t you ever going to drive the Lincoln home?” It took a while for the dots to connect in my friend’s head. His car insurance that was affixed to his dad’s policy and the auto insurance bill reflected the addition of the Lincoln. His dad had known for months that he had a new car.
This past week, I also thought about the green colored large glass terrarium with a very small neck opening that my friend brought as a gift to Treva and I when he came to visit us in San Angelo. I also remember that we got planted some kind of ivy that actually thrived inside it. How we got it planted, I don’t remember, but I do remember the gift. The terrarium was a good look.
When I returned his call yesterday afternoon, I could tell immediately that he wasn’t well. In fact, he was at an all time low. I think more than anything, he just needed to talk. He had talked to another friend earlier. That friend had cautioned him that he needed to let go of the anger he was experiencing. After all, it was his responsibility as a Christian to be forgiving.”
Wow! What was all that about? His closest neighbor, for whom he is the landlord, had accidently but carelessly run over his dog and killed it in his driveway. When we talked, his voice broke as though he was going to break into tears and from the denigrating things he shared about his neighbor’s ineptness, he was really angry. He had not yet gotten to the place where unconditional love was on his horizon. He was also mad with his friend that asked: “What kind of Christian are you? You are supposed to be forgiving”. He counseled him to be forgiving and he was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I could feel his pain through the sound of his voice.
I’m not even a dog person, but I found myself hurting for him. Instead of telling him to immediately flip the switch and forgive his neighbor and let go of his anger, I took a different tactic. After all, this had just happened. I said simply: “It is okay to be angry for now. Eventually, you’ll need to let go of the anger and be forgiving because it will be detrimental to your health if you don’t. But you don’t have to worry about doing that today. Today, as you grieve the loss of your dog, it is okay to be angry.
He told me about the neighbor. Like I said, he wasn’t being overly charitable in his assessment. He said, she is a teacher and she just got into trouble at school. She does dumb stuff. A child stomped on the foot of another student. She intervened and asked the student how he would feel if that happened to him. She then went and brought the injured student back and asked him to stomp on the foot of the student who hurt him. Another teacher witnessed the ordeal. Consequently it didn’t play out well for the teacher attempting to teach the life lesson. Apparently forgiveness was not on her radar screen either.
Hopefully my friend will have a better day today. He is scheduled for a follow-up doctor’s appointment. Hopefully, he’ll get some level of encouragement that he is on track for getting better. In addition, I’m also praying he’ll find the ability to distance himself from some of his anger. That can’t play well for his recovery process. An angry spirit never plays well for the person who harbors it.
All My Best!