The old tall man shuffled his way up the church aisle followed by an old, much shorter, man. Living in a nearby residential care facility, the two of them had recently started attending our church. A few weeks later I saw the tall one return a stack of books to our church library. “He borrows several books each week,” I was told, “reads them and returns them the next Sunday.” I must admit I was a bit skeptical about his reading them; it would take me a couple months to read what he claimed he read in a week. Lesson number one: don’t judge a book by its cover.
Since John didn’t have a car, he would often take a bus. I don’t remember how it happened, but my wife began to take him places when the bus schedules weren’t convenient. He provided an intellectual respite from a mother’s world filled with hairy puppets singing “Letter ‘B’” songs. Lesson number two: a true friendship is when you can’t tell who is doing who a favor.
John became a true friend. He taught me more than I could hope to describe. He moved me to a new level of thinking and showed me that I could keep up. He was our adopted father and our children’s adopted grandpa. He was the same age as our dads and we celebrated their milestone birthdays together, the three old codgers, at 75, 80 and finally 85 years old. Lesson number three: good friends are like family.
John was an intellect. A graduate of Wheaton College and Princeton Theological Seminary, he was a friend of well known and influential people. John was never rich or famous, but he, too, was influential. All of us who spent time with him were never the same; you should have heard the chorus of voices at his memorial service.
As his 87th birthday approached, he was very ill. “I just want to make it to my birthday,” he told us one time we were visiting. My wife arranged a birthday party for him at the convalescent center. He waited in the gathering room and friends began to appear one at a time. And they stayed and talked and honored John. He moved from one to another: talking, sharing and laughing. He beamed with satisfaction. And after all had left and as I was helping him back into bed, John looked at me square in the eyes. The words he said were “thank you” and the tone was one of finality as if he was saying, “it is finished.” A few days later, John was in eternity.
My friend John came to mind today; I miss him so.