A Cup of Conversation – October 2017

Life was not a valuable gift, but death was. Life was a fever-dream made up of joys embittered by sorrows, pleasure poisoned by pain; a dream that was a nightmare-confusion of spasmodic and fleeting delights, ecstasies, exultations, happinesses, interspersed with long-drawn miseries, griefs, perils, horrors, disappointments, defeats, humiliations, and despairs—the heaviest curse devisable by divine ingenuity; but death was sweet, death was gentle, death was kind; death healed the bruised spirit and the broken heart, and gave them rest and forgetfulness; death was man’s best friend; when man could endure life no longer, death came and set him free. ~Mark Twain, Letters from Earth.

I tried to condense that long darkish muse but couldn’t decide what to leave out. Samuel Clemens (Twain’s real name) was a humorist and cynic. In a fallen world, cynicism and reality are often fraternal twins. Mr. Clemens wasn’t completely wrong, just temporarily weary from life outside Eden.

An old friend returned to Jacksonville a short while back. He was a local kid, grew up here and a reason we were able to grow in the early years. My friend knew everyone and everyone him. He’d bring in friends and introduce us around. Back in the day before California fool’s gold changed the economics here, localism was still very prevalent. If nobody liked you it was a frigid swim across our little pond. We’ll always be grateful for what he did for us. I don’t recall ever thanking my old friend. It’s never too late for expressing gratitude. There is something about simple acknowledgement for good received that heals the soul. Sometimes the healing is for those doing the acknowledging.

Our friend has a unique gift. He’s a fisher of men with abilities to cast deep into the human heart to catch a man’s attention if just for a moment. Sometimes it only takes but a moment. A big career move took him and family up north some twenty years ago. I saw him the other day in the coffee house enjoying a breakfast burrito and a great cup of coffee. Seeing him gave me pause to remember why we come home. Whoever said you can’t ever really go home clearly never lived here.

Our friend’s mom passed away a while back. She never left Jacksonville, remaining here to the end. It’s interesting how the universe shifts upon the passing of a human life. Mostly the shift is imperceptible; discernible only to those closest to the loss but sometimes the shift is a clarion call. God is intentional when establishing boundaries in death to provide vast possibilities for change in the living. There’s only one caveat to this principle of grace. The window of opportunity to respond to such profound circumcision of heart (a very descriptive phrase) is brief. The heart’s capacity to quickly callous over again is equally as profound.

We’ve all experienced the power of a passing life, especially a life well lived. A son finally able to kick a lifelong destructive habit after losing a father, or sibling forgiving a sibling for seemingly unforgivable trespass. As I age, occasion to say a final goodbye is ever increasing. This presents unique opportunity to see the unseen. As long as one still takes breath there is still a chance to change somebody’s world.

In our friend’s case, his mom’s passing brought him home to stay. The universe shifted. I guess this small pond is not yet fished out. Casting seeds of hope here decades ago now affords privilege to see the fruit in living color. How many of us really consider the wealth in this kind of treasure? Mr. Clemens said life was not a valuable gift because somewhere along a particularly long and exhausting march he forgot life was not his own. Have you ever been in that place?

Be good not bitter.