It was the most surreal conversation I have had, ever. Our dear friend and mentor from our college days, Doug Burck, called a few weeks ago to tell us personally that he has his ticket punched to go to heaven and should be heading there in a month or so. With his unique candor and contagious laugh he announced that his kidneys have failed and he only wants to do dialysis for a short time. This is our Doug that keeps us laughing with his stories and jokes, guides us to find God in everything, and has adopted us as his own kids.
So Doug gets to decide when he wants to pull his own plug and board the train to Heaven. And get this. He’s excited about his next adventure. Sure, he’s sad to leave his wife of 30 years behind and all of us who can’t really imagine life without him but he’s so Heavenly minded that he, albeit a bit nervously, looks forward to what’s ahead.
Not many of us get to know that we have 2 weeks left but Doug has been given this gift and with it he’s connecting with every dear friend he has to say goodbye, he’s making things right with others, and he’s savoring every minute with his wife.
He and his wife were our bridge to independence during those fragile college years where you are simultaneously letting go of parents with one hand while reaching towards the unknown of independence with the other. He prided himself in being the pebble in Cory’s shoe, forever challenging him yet he was the gentle salve my troubled heart needed. He knew how to love each of us, right where we were at. And they continue to bless the next generation as they have poured into our kids as well with yearly reunions that highlight our year.
Tonight we had one of our last conversations (man that’s difficult to type) in which he challenged our son Cade to “be better than me”. He said, “take what I’ve taught you and go further. If you don’t push to be better than I am than I will feel I failed.” He went on to tell Cade that he sees wisdom in him and he wants him to use that for God’s glory (little did he know that Cade’s name means, “Wise warrior”). He said, “If it’s possible I will greet you at heaven’s door and I want to see that you’re bruised and bloodied from your battles for God and when I ask you if you strived to be better than me, I hope to hear you say ‘yes’.” Big words for a 16-year-old to digest to which Cade tenderly responded, ” I will never forget you. You mean so much to me.”
Such a legacy. He poured into us. He poured into our kids. Open arms. Open heart. Unconditionally accepting. Feisty yet tender. Prodding us ahead to be better, stronger, and to live with integrity.
I know he’s excited but I am not ready to say good-bye. These are the relationships that forever change us, they become part of who we are and live on through us. I am a better person because of him and as we say good-bye I promise, Doug, I will keep striving to love others completely, fully, and tenderly as you do. If only I could master your feisty and rambunctious laugh.
I write because I need a place to sort out all the words dancing around in my head that I am sure would make a complete thought if I could just organize them into a sentence. We are all in this same journey of making sense out of the words of our days. Making sense to make peace and to make joy.
And one of my essays, 1197 words organized into a logical order, edited, reorganized, word swapped, flipped upside down and inside and out was hand delivered to the contest organizer in June. Apparently, the judges liked it. It was chosen as this year’s top 10 in the Literary Contest and will be published later this fall in an anthology to be sold at bookstores.
Tonight, I read those 1197 words to a crowd of literary junkies. I am wishing it was a fiction piece – about someone else doing something great. Instead, it’s a personal piece. Very personal. And it’s about me.
They’ve determined that I am spunky enough to kick the evening off so I read first. I set the tone for an event that I have never been to.
And as I anticipate those 1197 words, written and soon to be spoken, I am amazed at how many details it takes to stand there and speak. My daughter, as prearranged, will be picked up by dear friends after school to hang out with their middle daughter and of course, might as well, she will spend the night. So this morning, at 6:30 am, we were packing pjs and toothbrush into her backpack. Our son, will need a ride to his soccer game and a ride home, where he too will hang out until my reading and nine other readers are finished.
My husband has to get a mountain bike ride in and I need to go run (to sort it all out) and we will breathlessly meet up sometime an hour before the event, smile and walk in.
All these details, swirling around, creating more words to swirl around in my mind, needing order and understanding.
These are the details that I observe, daily, ponder during my runs and our hikes and organize into sentences that are helping to shape me. It’s good stuff, all these words and details. It’s good when the details are just words and it’s good when those words line up and form thoughts that change me. And maybe change you.