There is a great Biblical phrase which comes back often to me. And, I’m feeling it today as I take my seat on our lovely balcony, after supper, at the hour of sunset. It is this observation: “the day goeth away, and the shadows of evening are stretched out.”
It’s a sense about the day that’s been, and is now dropping into night. It is sunset, when so much changes. Even buildings, like ours here that surround the courtyard of our “Covenant Village.” In the morning, dawn’s light was fresh upon them. Until later, in the heat of the day, they were awash with brilliant noonday sun.
A soft wind blew through this afternoon and the lovely linden trees, growing tall outside our second floor apartment, gave a lacy pattern of light and shade to our balcony. I sat here, writing as the soft summer wind blew, and I could look at the sky and our pond, and think about all kinds of things.
Now, in the evening hour, I’m back, writing, listening to bird sounds and fountain splashing, and water rippling.
Molly got me, as the old father in our family, to phone the fathers and thank them for the loving work they do so well, attending to their families. And one of them is getting supper for one of his granddaughters. Something I think I could never do.
I began to think of how important families are, and the connections they provide. Molly talks by phone with our children almost daily.
How strange that we can tell how their day is going by the sound of their voices. The tone. The hesitations. The pauses. The rush of news. Or their silences reveal sometimes, deep thought.
I began to think of all the connections we have in life. Of the people out there, half a world away, who mean so much to us and who some, quite regularly, call or write to us, to say they care about us, or what they learned from us, or what it means to them to be “in our lives.”
Such an honor when they want you to know that, about them – “to have you in our lives,” they say.
Connections. Somebody out there caring. Remembering. Telling you that you mean something to them. We say that too, to others. “You count. You made a difference. You brighten our days. You give meaning to life itself, for us.”
And so we call. We write. We journey out, to be with them. And arrange to just meet for coffee.
It’s a “thing” in life to most of us. The value of connections. Jesus says, “Come with me. Be with me. Listen to me. We need to be together. And, not just now. But always. Forever. Personal relationships.”
That’s how we live. How we care. How we know what’s right. How we value – Connections. “Behold, I am with you always,” He says. So true. So important. Let’s keep it that way.
I’ve never liked the end of life protocols that hospitals, and caregivers, and often families want you to sign. So the near and dear will know what to do with you when they feel you’re too sick, too impaired, to decide for yourself when you’re at the door.
The medical people want it in writing. In fact, everyone seems to want your will about your dying to be in writing.
But my mind knows it’s not that simple. They assume one of your present illnesses will rise up to smite you. That the chronic leukemia will take over and be the one to cause your death. Or that the long-term lung disease, mycobacterium avium will be the guilty party. Or that the newest contestant, your kidneys, will get busy and decide to make more stones, like the three big ones that sent me to surgery will be the culprits. Or the swallowing difficulty which probably caused the two decades of coughing which I brought home from Africa and is now dominating my diet will be the interloper who gets the nod.
They are all there. Their time will come. But no one knows when. And, of course, it may be off the street, in the car, or someone’s growing anger. I had two death threats, long ago, both from within the flock.
Friends say, “Arthur, you’re ‘finishing well, we’re trying to follow you.” The Apostle Paul said he was “running the race.” The trouble is we don’t know where the finish line is.
What we do know, is that our life is in God’s hands. God already knows the year, the day, and the hour. He knows our length of days. He’s already decided. “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.” He’s already decided, long ago. His word is, to us: “Don’t worry.” Don’t ask for it. Be ready to take it when it comes. Just be ready.
I’ve sung to my congregation when I was their minister: “Well, I want to be ready when He comes. Oh, I want to be ready when He comes again. He’s comin’ again so soon.”
I do want to be ready – in my heart, in my spirit. I expect Him. I expect Him to keep His promise, “In My father’s house are many rooms, and I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again, and take you to myself, that where I am there you may be also.”
That’s what Molly and I tell ourselves. We will be with Jesus. And, we will be with each other. There’s a place already being prepared for us. We don’t have to worry.
And, as He said so often, to so many: “Don’t be afraid.” We don’t have to make a place for fear in our lives. It will work out. We will know, when it’s time. And, I believe we’ll know what to do. And we’ll have peace about it. Jesus said, “Peace be unto you.”
I believe the promises – of a life after death. A life with Jesus in heaven, where it will be all right. Everything will be all right. It will be the right time. And the right way.
I want to live as long as I can, here. To do what I can, to bless whatever people have been given to me to care about. By fireside visits, by coffee dates, or lunches “without end.” By blogs. Even if I now let the Faith Line go. By letters. By prayer. By early gatherings at the Hilltop.
I think my doctors will work with me. And my family. Most of all I believe Jesus will help me do the right thing, and help my family, so dear to me, to be of one mind, in Him. My high hope. My growing faith.
Thank you, Jesus!
Love you, all you dear people,
In the four weeks of hospital and then extended care, I’ve had many dreams. In those dreams I have made plans – one of them to step in the car and head out on the highways of springtime, swooping somehow on an upward arc to meet a dear son of ours on a journey across the country, with his wife and two children soon to be coming to spend the end of June with us – in times for his mother’s 90th birthday party under a tent, on the lawn of Colonial Church, where he had spent the years of his childhood and growing up.
We look so forward to it. I’ve had Andrew “on my mind.” He phoned me almost daily during my three weeks in the care center. One evening he called to tell me about the boat race of the day in which his two tall lanky late-teenage kids had rowed. And then he lapsed into a lyrical account of how beautiful rowing is as a sport. Andrew himself had rowed for his college the year he’d spent abroad, studying at Oxford. “The sound of the oars entering the water together, with eight people pulling, and then the oars coming out – ready to swing forward for another stroke. It was just beautiful, Dad.”
Such a moment on the phone in my darkened hospital room with my son, talking about something we both loved.
But today, I found I had other appointments. I must stay, and continue my recovery, even though it will mean disciplines for me I am not sure I can fulfill. The nurse at the swallowing center, taking video pictures of my throat, said it bluntly when she saw the doubt on my face, “Well, the alternative is pneumonia.” I knew I had to fight back – even with doubts I would really do it.
All rather strange to me. How had I lived all these years and not have known about my swallowing difficulty. Is it too late? Can I correct it?
I will try – no matter how hungry I get. For I do still have dreams that can be fulfilled. Small ones, maybe, but appropriate ones. Dreams that still can happen, in life, in these days.
At supper tonight a wise daughter said, “Well Dad, the great thing still is PRAYER – learning what God is doing in the world now, and how He can use you for good.”
That’s a dream I want to continue to dream, till maybe certain things happen. He can still take my hand, and lead me on, and show me new deeds of ministry, yet to be done. In the city I know and love, along the streets that are familiar to me, even among people close to my heart, who are still alive, who still care, and who are praying.
About things like two wonderful churches getting together to do God’s work – Colonial, and Zion, two churches who each know that the Spirit is the way. The Spirit Jesus promised to send, and wants to send – into the Church’s heart in new ways, in these new days. There are people I can stand beside, and love, and encourage. Maybe there are words of love yet to say, that I can speak in quiet ways that can help these cities and the good people who want to be part of what God is ready to do now.
Please join me in praying for that – in these new days.
Arthur, with love.
[Written on May 20, 2021]
Molly has just left to walk across the street to our small apartment we call home. Scores of programs go on here, led by people in different colored uniforms. Three different “therapy” sections, occupational and a couple others. They’re all here to help. But they announce themselves at my door ready to claim the next half-hour of my time, to teach me how to swallow, or to use unused muscles again, how to stay balanced, or how to use legs and feet again. In short, to prepare us patients for the world.
That is, the world of home, the medical world, with too many dimensions to count. And too much that was too complicated to try to count.
That, beginning tomorrow, my 92nd birthday. I must try to count, try to understand, try to use, try to bring back that old familiarity of long life.
The task is daunting. Am I a little afraid? Yes, I am a little afraid. I must try to perform at a level that meets the speed and accuracy, confidence and competence that will allow me to “pass.” To get by. To be adequate.
So many have prayed, and have thrown their love into the mix. Dear Molly, herself, has worked so hard to help me be ready for the change at considerable cost to herself.
My great hope is Jesus, who said – repeatedly – “Be not afraid.” God will take care of me. I know it. I must believe it. I must trust. I must follow Joan of Arc, who said, “I must dare, and dare, and dare, until I die.” Only God can make it happen, can make me “adequate.”
Perhaps little steps, at first, will be right. Jesus practiced His whole ministry “one step at a time.” And of course, that Sunday in Pentecost. The Day of the Spirit, Whom Jesus said He would send, to lead us.
I count on that. I want so much to get “back to my life.” But, it won’t be mine. It will be Jesus’ life for me. He will show me the life – starting tomorrow. When I get to face friends again. Help people again. Be a useful person again. Hear the signals of the Savior – and FOLLOW.
Help me, Jesus, to do exactly that. And take every hand held out to me. And keep me going.
Your prayers have kept me alive. I know my life itself is a miracle. So – I cling to that. My wonderful family of faith will help me. Thank you. Thank you!
Your brother, Arthur
[Written while still in "Transitional Care," shortly before being released to go home]
I never thought of myself as having another life. As living my own life, different from other lives “out there,” or in other professions, or in other parts of the country. I suppose the closest I came was my dream, as a boy, and a very young man, of wanting to be a cowboy. Of loving horses, and taking riding lessons, and owning cowboy hats (and later, Africa “bush” hats). But, I soon knew the cowboy’s life wouldn’t be for me – even though I loved to read their stories, and in my imagination, ride along with them.
Until I got in the hospital these last many weeks, and found that the army of tough nurses, and insistent therapists were assuming I belonged to them until I was discharged. That they had free access to my room, and me, appearing at my door at all hours of the day, if not the night, already armed with something to thrust into my mouth (like crushed pills sunk in applesauce, pushed into my mouth on an impatient spoon), of a needle to stick in my arm, or a blood pressure cuff to wrap around my bicep, right or left, or a ready urinal for me to use in their overseeing presence at the side of my bed.
They came, unannounced, ordered me into a wheelchair, or later a walker, to march to the gym 160 steps down the hall – there to pedal a fake bicycle up to eight minutes, or to pass a large rubber ball around the room between several other unsuspecting patients, or to play an unfamiliar board game, or even descend to BINGO.
The games, I realized, were not pointless, nor the exercises. And, they were offered with generally good cheer. In fact, I soon realized that my participation and involvement were my ticket to discharge.
I needed to move my muscles. Indeed, my mind as well, in the board games. And, I came to have a quiet and acknowledged friendship – unspoken, but received – with my compatriots, inasmuch as we were all trying to grow stronger, if not smarter.
Indeed, as the days went on, these people from another world, became curiously, my friends. Even the tough Liberians, with their African traditions, came to have a twinkle in the eyes – even when I was resisting them. And, as they discovered I loved Africa, and had spent 30 years going back and forth to Africa, to help first with East Africa’s famine, and later, with the devastation and horror of Rwanda’s Genocide, they found me a comrade, if not a countryman, and knew that I cared about them, and their countries.
While the nurses were tough, they knew their stuff, and did their jobs, and the therapists let me know that the exercises and routines would make me better, stronger, if I took them seriously.
They even seemed to take pleasure in the fact that I was being sent home on my 92nd birthday. They seemed glad for my life.
But it took cogitation and reflection, and considerable repentance in the darkness of my room alone at night, to realize how arrogant it was of me to declare, particularly to the experts, “You know, I have a life of my own, apart from these exercises and games, that I am trying to live and achieve. I have a website, and an assistant. I write blogs – about life and values. I’m trying to do that work, even while I’m here.”
How inappropriately proud that was on my part, and how grateful I should be that they cared, and continued to help me.
It’s easy to think that one’s own tasks and goals, are the important ones, and be blind to the multiple ways people of the world help us – even in our own goals. And that we should BE GRATEFUL.
I am now. I hope I have learned some humility from these young people, that will make me wiser, and more kindly, and not think of myself as the most important thing in the world.
When I went to apologize, the last day, to one of the nurses, for my behavior, she was full of forgiveness and understanding and assured me she understood.
My life, after all, includes the hospital, the weakness, and the role of those who were there to save my life and help me live. One of my daughters, on seeing me when I first entered the hospital, confessed she felt from the way I looked, that she might never see me again. So many loved, and were pulling – and praying – for me.
We need to see all the caring people around us and thank them, and thank God, and cultivate the humble heart God has given us. My “other life"? All this world, and every day, are my whole life. I’m trying to learn.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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