God proved His love on the Cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, ‘I love you.’ – Billy Graham
What if you one day found yourself alone? What if—through no fault of your own—the family in which you were raised drew away from you? What if your nieces and nephews, or your grandchildren, were too busy with their own lives to take the time to visit you, or even to call? What if no cards came from them at Christmas? What if all those friends who promised always to be there for you were too far away or too busy to spend an afternoon on your porch, share a meal, or to visit your house? (Imagine a table for eight with seven perpetually empty spaces.) What if you couldn’t get to church because the weather was too bad, the snow was too deep, or you were too sick with a cold or the flu to risk exposing the congregation? What if you—despite your best efforts—always found yourself alone on every major holiday, every Easter, every Labor Day, every Christmas, and every New Year’s day, often even in a room full of people, friends and acquaintances? What if you were a Christian in an increasingly secular world? What if you suffered the soft bigotry of disassociation? What if the only other voice you heard in a single day was your own echo? What if every rock of your life suddenly turned to sand? What if your walk in life was a solitary one?
What would you do? From whom and from what would you draw the strength to get out of bed in the morning? Whose hand would take yours every day, especially when you needed a reassuring grip? Who would listen to your troubles, joys, your blessings, your stories? Who would tell you some of his own? Who would keep your daily company?
On this Easter, I reflect upon the many millions of people who find themselves in this situation—so distant from their fellow man. Modern life, with its abundant distractions: iPhones, iPads, headphones, podcasts, radio, and television, has almost perfectly engineered a pallid, prison-less solitary confinement. I can experience it any day and every day, and I watch as others do the same. No one, it seems, has time to talk, to be a true friend. I wonder sometimes if true friendship is a fanciful conception one outgrows in one’s childhood, at best by the time one graduates from college. I guess I didn’t.
Rough and tumble from time to time, growing up at the beach on Fire Island in the summers, suburbia and a great big farm in the woods of Bucks County (the Farm) in the winters, Huckleberry Finn was my hero. I lost myself in Sunken Forest, the fields, woods and streams of the Farm. The kids with whom I attended grade school with were always eager for adventures—we always were—and they didn’t leave me behind, even when I came back from surgery. No, they wheeled me all over town that day, so much so that my casts created quite a rash that evening. My best friend still is one from grade school Imagine that! Hank, I have known him since I was five years old.
In ‘Huckleberry Finn,’ I have drawn Tom Blankenship exactly as he was. He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good a heart as ever any boy had. – Mark Twain
About to crash land into 60 years of age, I have so many elderly friends, men and women at least twenty years my senior, to whom I have reached out and who have reached out to me for companionship, comradeship, kinship. I find it curious the average age of my friends is in the neighborhood of 75. Perhaps it has to do with complete acceptance of each other as we truly are. After all, it’s a bit late to stand on the youthful stage of pretense. Some can barely stand at all. Some are bedridden, delicately, ever so delicately crossing into their late 90s, some trundle along at church with canes and walkers. All have the most interesting, poignant, sometimes sorrowful, assuredly engaging life stories, especially the veterans, if one takes the time to listen. Listen. Time to reflect and listen, truly listen. I am so grateful to each of them for what they have taught me along the way. When one of them passes, as unfortunately happens from time to time, I erase his or her earthly address from my Outlook contacts and replace it with Heaven. Why not? I am quite sure not a one of them will not be there.
Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.
On this fine Easter morning—one so sunlit blue, bright and refreshing that I have the true feeling of spring—I reflect, as I think of the cardinals whom I spy daily all over this island, as I listen to their songs: I think of our risen savior, Jesus Christ, who gave his life that we might have eternal life. Has He not been my companion throughout my life? Has he not made himself known to each of my elderly friends? I reflect upon Christ’s lonely, agonizing journey to the cross, one burdened with the foreknowledge of the Hell He would have to endure on our behalf. Most of all, I reflect upon His precious gift to us, to each of us. He gave his life for you, for me: John 15:13 13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV)
Just like my swift-winged friend the cardinal—a bird I have loved all my life—Jesus accompanies me daily and He has been with me throughout my journey, even in the depths of crushing despair. So, on those mornings when I find myself alone, which is most of them, I reflect upon Jesus’ gift to me, the meaning of His life, His wisdom. His song. Rather than immerse myself in self-pity, I understand I must reflect and listen. The drama of the cross occurred 2000 years ago; although its portent resonates throughout the ages, to find Christ in this cacophony one must quiet oneself. Jesus is surely with me now, but He is quiet, discreet, unobtrusive: To see him, to hear him, I must reflect and listen. He might draw my attention to him with a cardinal’s flight or melodious song, but to hear it I must listen.