Monday, December 27, 2010

A Belated Christmas Gift

After 7 hours of waiting in hard hospital chairs, we walked into the ICU room. JoJo started talking to him and at the sound of her voice he started fidgeting, moving his mouth, struggling against the ventilator clogging his throat. “He’s looking good,” said the nurse, Eddie. “He’s been incredibly stable ever since they brought him in here.”

Well of course he has, Eddie. What else could my Grandpa Bobby be? Incredibly stable – that’s how he’s lived his entire life. He walks slowly. He chews slowly. His driving is methodical, and every decision process – from where to eat to what car to buy - is painstaking and well informed. Bobby hardly ever complains. He is happy to be wherever he is, happy to make a friend with whomever happens to be standing next to him, happy to see you and tease you wherever he finds you. Stable is how he operates. Of course it would be how he recovers from a triple bypass open-heart surgery at 78 years old.

JoJo always said that she married Bobby because of his eyes: “I always wanted my children to have brown eyes!” But I suspect that it was his constancy that drew her to him as much as his big brown peepers. “I’ll stay with JoJo tonight unless she gets real mad at me,” I told him the night before his operation. “Oh,” he said, “she gets mad at lots of people. She gets over it.”

And so they’ve been, together, a consistent and powerful force in my life and in the lives of countless others over the years. Bobby asked a couple of months ago what we thought his legacy would be. “What’s my legacy to you? Now, I want you to think about it real seriously, now. I want a real answer. Don’t worry, I’m asking your sister and your cousins the same thing. But you think about that, now, Dana Beth. You think about that.”

I’ve thought about it, Bobby. Real seriously. And it was Eddie’s comment when I was standing with you in the ICU last week that hit the nail on the head. You all have been - for me and for so many other people - a consistent and loving presence. Now, you might not think that’s a real big deal. You might think, that’s nothing – that’s just what people do. But I beg to differ.

When we grandkids were growing up, I can’t remember a single event that my grandparents missed. Ballet, gymnastics, softball, band concerts, church pageants, piano recitals, graduations: they’ve been at each and every one. Even now, as softball games have given way to preaching engagements and major surgeries, they have always, always been there. When I spoke at Annual Conference, they bought tickets. When I had a tumor removed, they showed up at 6 am to sit with me in the pre-surgery waiting room. I have never been with JoJo and Bobby for more than a couple of minutes without them asking about my life, where I am, what I’m doing, what I think about this or that.

Despite what my grandfather might think and despite what I’ve been taught, this is not “just what people do.” People don’t often operate with such consistency. There are testaments to what my grandparents have become all over the place:

Last week, they told me that when they went to visit an old church friend, he was in sort of a bad, foggy mood, until he heard their voices. He looked up, exclaimed their names, and settled into a comfortable conversation. The aide who was there with him whispered, “Oh, you came at JUST the right time. You just have no idea how much this visit is helping him.” Who knows what memories or recognition those voices touched inside this friend’s foggy mind, what clarity the familiarity called forth? There would be decades of days to choose from.

I’m not sure how conscious Bobby and JoJo are of what it is that they’ve done, or if they give themselves any credit for it. Bobby told us just this week that he’d realized that somewhere along the way that his generation just gave up on trying to change the world and just let it be what it was. JoJo immediately countered with her truth: you can’t change the world – you can change people. I honestly don’t know of any better way to change people’s lives – to be a part of the transformation promised to us in Christ – than to pick a place, settle down in it, and be: around, with and for the people there. To be incredibly stable, even as the world whirls around you: that’s a gift. And that’s a legacy.