I sat across from him watching him eat his breakfast. His hair was wild and disheveled. Pam had made him a ham and cheese omelet with a bowl of fresh fruit on the side. For the first time in a long while, I watched him finish everything on his plate. With great difficulty, I got him back in his recliner. We sat together for another half hour or so. I read him the Grove church bulletin, and a few of my recent blogs. He smiled a few times but said very little until I was about to leave when he told me how good his breakfast was and reminded me to give his compliments to the chef. I drove away feeling that familiar heaviness, that sense of loss, the great weight of decay.
I drove past the old parsonage where I lived for 12 years. It was old when I lived there, now it seemed ancient; the beautiful maple tree in the front yard with a gaping wound sliced through its heart by the power company to make room for the lines, the dogwood trees in the front yard all gone. All of the houses along the way that I remember from my childhood seem molded and worn, shrunken by forty seasons. I pulled up to the stop sign at 33 where the old beer joint, the Holly Inn, used to be. Now there’s a place where you can buy potted plants and wind chimes. It is on these drives home from my Dad’s when I feel most alone.
As I continue on I have an epiphany of sorts, although to even use such a word feels pretentious. It is a thought that I’m sure has occurred to at least a couple of hundred-million people throughout the ages, so there will be no Nobel Prize in my future for realizing that everything around me in the physical world is in decay. I glance down at my fingertips to stare at the newly arrived tiny lines that have sprouted up virtually overnight. I look into the rear view mirror and notice the deepening lines around my eyes and the new flecks of gray. Decay. I think about the car I’m driving and how spotless it was when I drove it home for the first time. Now, it carries the marks of use, a few dings, a white smudge of paint on one of the bumpers, and recently I’ve begun to notice several new squeaks and groans. My house, so proud and new when we had it built 15 years ago now begins to sprout cracks in the drywall. Decay.
I remind myself that ageing is often a good thing. With age comes experience, even wisdom. Some things actually improve with age, like cheese and wine. Some things get more valuable with age, like a coin collection or a vintage automobile. Every dark cloud has a silver lining, I suppose.
But as I pulled into the church parking lot, the thought came to me that the entire world, all of creation since the fall is in a rebellious state of decay. When I read a newspaper I see the brokenness everywhere, not a single corner of the globe is exempt. We are doing the best we can to fashion a fulfilling life out of a world gone to seed by our selfishness and inattention. We all battle against the decay, as we should, but the thought brings clarity to me, that in the battle between good and evil, right and wrong, we will always fight against powerful headwinds, this side of eternity.
I find my seat in the balcony. I listen to a stirring instrumental, the clear notes of a violin. I take the Lord’s Supper. I think about the stunning amount of hypocrisy in the church, including me. Then another thought rushes in, despite the manifold shortcomings of the church, where would the world be without it? What level of decay would exist if Christ had never come, if his teachings had never entered into the mind of man? Perhaps it is our feeble attempts to be our brother’s keeper that have so far spared us all the dystopian nightmare we fear is coming.
I drive away from the church and head for home. Once again I think of Dad and the decay that has wracked his mind and body. A dear friend I had just seen at church had asked about him. She told me that she had been out to see him a week or so ago and had really noticed his decline. Then she said, “Doug, I wonder sometimes why God leaves us here so long. It can’t be to teach Emmett anything, so it must be to teach us something.”
Maybe it’s this…there isn’t an infinite amount of goodness, kindness and holiness in the world; they are valuable and rare commodities and on this decaying planet we need all of them we can get.
So, Dad lives.