Dave stood in the threshold, waving goodbye with his right hand and propping the screen door open with his left. I was sitting behind the steering wheel of my Jeep, leaning over and waving in return.
A wordless affection passed between us. My heart ached as I put the car in gear and started the long drive home.
His wife Doris had phoned me with the news of his pancreatic cancer. By the time they had gotten the diagnosis, Dave’s remaining time was reckoned in weeks.
I told my wife Joy, and she agreed that I should clear my calendar to go see Dave. Within a couple of days, I had driven across three states to spend some time with my friend.
We passed a day laughing, talking, and gazing silently out the windows of his sunroom at the hay fields surrounding his house. Around noon we shared a simple lunch of homemade corn chowder and bread.
Eventually he got around to telling me what dying had taught him about living.
I cannot remember precisely the words Dave used. But here’s what I took away from the conversation we shared.
Each breath we draw reveals the power of love. For the most part, we don’t realize this. We just go about our busy lives.
But for those who know how to listen, the existence of every single thing in this cosmos sings, “Love is at work here.” And there is nothing quite like facing our own death to teach us to how to listen.
It’s not just that we live and then we stop living, as if we’re all marked with a celestial sell-by date. Death actually tells us the kind of existence we have. We receive life as a gift from a source beyond ourselves.
That we came into this world and that we depart this life teaches us this crucial lesson. No person or animal or plant or inanimate thing brings itself into exist. Everything owes its existence to something else.
Okay, you might say, “Well I’m here because my parents wanted a baby.” And that’s may well be true for you. But stretch the point a bit. Ask what one philosopher asked as the most basic question. Why is there something rather than nothing? At all.
Let’s get a little more personal. Listen to your own heartbeat for minute. Feel your lungs inhaling and exhaling. And then say to yourself, as honestly as you can, that there is nothing you can do to guarantee the next heartbeat or breath.
Dave did something like this. And here’s what happened. Wonder. He felt wonder that he had lived at all. He experienced it as gift, pure and simple.
He sensed—he felt in his gut—that he owed each moment of his existence to the power of God’s love. Mind you, Dave was a humble guy. He acknowledged that the life he actually lived didn’t always reflect this insight.
Nevertheless, he had come to see that to exist is to be held, to be tenderly sustained, by God’s own love. And to do more than merely exist—to really live—means to give that love away.
Jesus told his friends something like that on the night before his crucifixion. He told them that he is the True Vine and they are the branches.
“Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
We are here, on this planet, because we are loved. And to take hold of the life we have been given—to bear much fruit—we have to give that love away just as it has been given us. As a gift.
All of your writings are so wonderful.
Thank you !!!
Thank you, Lorelei! Eastertide blessings…..
Wish I could’ve read what you share decades ago! Beautiful perspective/understanding on a sensitive subject. Thanks.
I’ve spent an awful lot of time forgiving myself for what I didn’t know back in the day. Maybe I’m making some progress on that. Hope so!
You’ve mentioned about compassion for your younger self several times and that’s been helpful to me. Last night I opened a little book of Māori wisdom by a respected female Māori psychiatrist and she discusses some proverbs. One is “The old net is cast aside, while the new net goes fishing”. She explains that it usually refers to the next generation coming through but then she applies it to herself. The old net was not fully constructed by her and heavy with inherited pain and sorrow, and negative influences from others who wanted to control or mould her to serve their agenda. She’s now constructing a new net collaboratively with ‘whānau’ (extended family) and people she loves. She is making it with ‘aroha’ (love, compassion, respect and empathy). “I am now at an age and stage where I can truly accept myself, love myself and replenish the love I feel for myself and others as a source of energy for the power of good.” –Dr Hinemoa Elder in her book ‘Aroha’. I thought this passage (much abbreviated by me) is something you might enjoy reading. –Liz [feel free to edit back to the 1st line, I’m very aware I’ve written a lot.]
Oh I love this. Thank you for sharing this
Thanks, Jake, for this – a beautiful experience of a friend’s understanding of existence, as the work of a Loving God!
Christ is Risen, Alleluia! If only we all knew this reality, the world would be a better place for everyone.
The Lord is risen indeed! Continued Easter blessings, Ron!
My grandmother was my best friend and an encouragement to me. I was blessed to live with her for her last month. I was there when she had her massive heart attack in 1983. I treasure those times with her. And am so thankful. That I could be with her. She and I cared so much for each other. Praise God that I could be with her. I will see her again of course. She was a blessing to me. I’m so thankful for my family. Thank you for this. God bless you Jake. It was great to meet you in December of 2019. At our church. God’s peace. Thank you for this blog. Smiles.
Thank you for this story, Kathy. We share a deep affection for our grandmothers and the hope of seeing them on the other side. Blessings.
Absolutely. Thank you Jake.
I was halfway through my junior year at LSU when “something” told me to move home and finish at UNO. My dad died unexpectedly 6 months later of a heart attack. During that time we were took short trips, went fishing, visited. I learned so much about him! It was definitely a “God thing” that invited me home.
When my mom was dying, we had flown to Minnesota from Colorado. I had to fly back for a funeral in Colorado and a service that I had promised to preach at (Interfaith Thanksgiving Service)… I flew back to Colorado on the Saturday before Thanksgiving and flew back to Minnesota on Tuesday night of Thanksgiving week. I arrived just after midnight and was able to tell mom that I loved her before going to the guest apartment to get some sleep. Denise had been staying with my folks in their Assisted Living apartment. She called at 3am and told me to get up to the apartment. Mom passed before I got there… we had made several trips to Minnesota that Fall to see my folks after a series of hospitalizations for mom. Your story about Dave reminded me how important it is to savor the moments we have. I am so glad that you were able to have that time with Dave, my friend.
You are so right about savoring those moments. Bless you friend
Jake, This post is a great validation of the path/passage so many must take and are grateful when blessed to make this journey. To have life, to enjoy the beauty of this gift through the pain, and to reach gratefulness over will, expectation, and victim mentality is such a blessing! You are making scripture accessible as a guide and means for facilitating this journey. Dogma and organizational limits in interpretation have created walls for many to even read, much less personalize the teachings of Jesus. Thank You for this post!
Thank you, Pam!