The sound of silence last night provided me the serenity needed to think about a friendship shared and the impact or imprint it continues to hold for me. The last two months have gone by very quickly. Maybe they even unfolded into the third month, but not by much if they did. It almost seems surreal. One day he was here and the next day he was gone.
Despite the timeline, the grains of sand falling through the hourglass went by far too quickly for my liking. But as they say: “So it is with the days of our lives.” Of course, I’m looking at it from my perspective rather than the frame of reference experienced by my friend. Our friendship spanned the course of well over fifty years. We met in college and somehow managed to stay-in-touch and maintain the connection over the next five decades.
There were gaps in the connection. Sometimes there were very long gaps in the connection, but whenever we talked by phone or visited in person, we picked up at exactly the same place we left off. Isn’t that the litmus test for real friendship; the ability to not skip a beat and move forward as though it had only been day-before-yesterday when we last talked?
Last year when I sent him my books, he called almost immediately and said: “I can’t believe it. What you’ve written is a real book. I couldn’t stop turning the pages. What you’ve written is too good to put down. How did you do that?” I took it as a left-handed compliment. What other kind of book is there other than a real book? But I get his point. Normally, you expect a writer to be someone other than a friend you’ve known for decades.
He called a couple of days later saying: “I have a friend that could benefit from what you’ve written. She’s going through a tough time right now. Do you mind if I share the book with her?” Of course, I saw that as a compliment of the highest order. There was nothing left handed about it. He did sense that the book had value.
I remember a subsequent recent phone call as though it was yesterday. He had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He wanted to talk. We scheduled a time to visit the following week. By the next week he telephoned to change the location of our meeting. He had been hospitalized at MD Anderson.
When I walked into his hospital room, he didn’t spend anytime with small talk. I guess when you have the sense your days are numbered you get right to the point. He was forthright. He thanked me for coming and said: “Lets get this out of the way first. We can then talk about other stuff later, but this is a topic really important to me. We both know that a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer normally doesn’t end well. If that proves to be the case, would you conduct my funeral service? It would mean a lot to me.”
I was honored and agreed immediately to carry out his wishes. However, I had no idea that the timeline from then until now would be so short. He said, “I have two requests. The first is that you read the Scripture that includes the statement: “the greatest of these is love?” I asked, “Are you talking about I Corinthians 13 – Most often it is referred to as the “love chapter” of the Bible? He said, “Yes, that is it. I want you to read that.”
His next request wasn’t something I couldn’t answer from off the top of my head, but it was with little difficulty that I subsequently located what he requested. He said, “I don’t remember the name of the poem, but I remember the concept. I think the poet was Alford Lord Tennyson. He said something about the impact of others in one’s life. I should remember the way he phrased it, but I don’t. It has to do with being the sum of what others have contributed to my life”.
I wasn’t familiar with the poem or the line to which he was referring, but the concept my friend shared with me is based on Scripture. Romans 5:8 says: “All things work together for good to them that love the Lord, to them that are called according to his purposes.”
For the next few minutes he and I talked about how God uses everything that comes our way in life including hardship and disappointment to eventually orchestrate it for our own good. That was exactly what he was talking about. He said: “My life has been enriched by others. I don’t know how many people will attend my funeral. Across the years, I’ve been fortunate to have many friends. Please thank them for coming and let them know their presence in my life contributed greatly to who I am”.
Like I said, “It was with little difficulty that I located the poem. The first line of the poem is also the title. “I Am Part Of All I’ve Met”. My friend’s memory was intact. The poem was written by Alfred Lord Tennyson.
My friend’s approach to the problem of broken health was very much like the psalmist who said: “Yea thou I walk though the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me”. He explained it to me like this: “What I’ve discovered is that faith eradicates fear. Though my illness is not the path I would have chosen, my faith in God has equipped me to deal with this chapter of my life.
Subsequently, in short order, I saw it expressed in his life. He refused to give up or to retreat to bitterness or to fall prey to lasting depression. He knew that God would take care of the tomorrows, and he was intent on living the todays. I like the concept: “I am part of all I’ve met”. I’ve learned a lot from my friend by watching him yield to the final chapter in his earthly existence. I look forward to one day reconnecting with him on the other side.
All My Best!
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