Friday, June 10, 2005

Nancy Still Means Grace

I’m in the throes of a very hectic time today. We’ve got several projects going on. We’re refinishing the old quarter-sawn oak woodwork in our living room and we’re also re-painting our living room. And on top of all that I’ve got to mow before the next round of thunderstorms descends on us. According to Doppler radar I only have till about nine-thirty.

With that in mind, I think it’s time for a re-run. Part of me feels guilty about doing it, but, then, Turner Classic Movies and AMC do it all the time.

Nancy’s been retired for a few months. It’s really nice to have her around “full-time.” As I thought about it, this essay from last year seemed appropriate for a re-post.

Proverbs 31
10 [
1] “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.”

Proverbs 31
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

I’ve been a bachelor of sorts for about a week now. Nancy’s been on the road, doing what we hope will be her last road trip before she retires. The company obviously never talked to me about this trip or I would have changed the dates. I mean, the World Series is over and there’s no professional hockey. Oh, there is pro basketball, but anymore it’s interminably boring. The NFL? Well, I’m a Chiefs fan and their defense is like Swiss cheese this year, really painful to watch.

Thankfully this will be the last time I’m victimized by corporate interests.

Now in spite of all that I’m doing alright for myself, it’s not that I become a potted plant when she’s gone. But I clearly do better with her than without her.

I have had time to think and take care of some things this week. I’ve done quite a bit of work on my blog, which I really enjoy. I had breakfast out with some of the guys from church on Tuesday. Last night I went to our church’s men’s group. We’ve just started working our way through Wild at Heart, trying to figure out what manhood is all about. I also did my bi-monthly Lions’ Club thing which gives me an opportunity to serve in small ways here in Emporia. I took good care of our cats, especially a stray we’ve named Terkel who has taken refuge on our front porch for a bit over six months now.

But I sure did miss Nancy. I’m sitting here now thinking back to many of the wonderful moments in our lives together and, if it’s okay with you, I think I’ll share some of those moments with you.

I met Nancy at a really difficult time in my life. There may come a time when I’ll talk about the days prior to meeting her, but I’ll just say this, I’ve been through a war and I’ve been through a divorce and if I had a choice between doing one or the other over again, I’d gladly get on the plane to Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City rather than endure the pain 1980 to 1983 all over again. I’ll let you either read between the lines or draw whatever conclusions you want from there.

I’ll now break down a few of those moments for you:

Moment Number One:

I’d seen Nancy passing by from time to time at church in 1985, but never really got the chance to talk with her at all. Then one Sunday she was asked to make a presentation about her (then) recent trip to India as director of a charitable foundation called “Wellspring.” The one thing that made a lasting impression on me was how gracious, gentle, and even powerful she was in relating her experiences with Indian Christians. She just seemed so unique, so refreshing to me. It was then I decided she would be a wonderful friend.

Moment Number Two:

I’ll fast forward to 1990. We were married then, living in Montville, New Jersey. Our mornings were spent in the kitchen of an old Victorian home, built in the 1860’s, which had been renovated with tender loving care. The kitchen was huge, about 40X40, with both modern and old touches. At one end of the kitchen there was a sitting area looking out onto the front yard, which was filled with absolutely beautiful gardens and trees. On this particular morning we were sipping our coffee when a flicker creeping up the trunk of one of the maple trees caught her eye. Now Nancy is a great lover of nature. In fact she just seems to me to revel in the beauty of the natural order. Well, the moment she saw the flicker she reached across the table and grasped my hand and exclaimed, “Oh, Phil, it’s the flicker. Isn’t she beautiful.” Now I’m a pretty strong guy, I lift weights about three or four times a week. Nancy’s about five foot three and I’m about five feet ten. Well I’ve shaken hands with lots of people before but I’ve never felt a grip like that in my life. Part of me wanted to say, “Hey, let go, you’re going to break something,” but the better part of me ignored the momentary pain and just soaked in the beauty of the moment There was something very, very powerful going on in her heart, it was clear. Something very powerful indeed.

Moment Number Three:

I had just passed fifty the previous fall, the age of reflection, the big five-oh. Now I have to say that I didn’t feel fifty, if one is supposed to feel a particular way at that point in his or her life.

Nancy had decided long before I got up that morning that we were going to take a Saturday trip down to the Jersey shore. She was downstairs at about 6:00 AM and I was still in bed, which was unusual for us. I heard the clatter of dishes and rolled over, trying to ignore the noise. It got louder. I groaned and tried to pull the pillow over my head. Well, I must have groaned loud enough for Nancy to hear downstairs in the kitchen. The next thing I remember was this, coming from the bottom of the stairs – “Hey, if we leave in a few minutes we can still have breakfast in Cape May.”

We arrived in Cape May at about 9:30. We found a little café, went in and ordered breakfast. While we were sipping our coffee, waiting for our meals, I noticed that there were a lot of older folks sitting in the café along with us. It also struck me that I looked a lot more like them than I had ever really thought about. Nancy saw that I was distracted. “Are you okay?” she asked. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
A few minutes passed and our meals came. I wasn’t really hungry and began sort of toying with the food. Now maybe it wouldn’t have taken a mind reader to figure out what I was thinking right about then, but Nancy was peering right into my soul when she asked the following question. “Have you given any thought about what you’d do with your life if I died before you, Slick?” The question took me off guard,; it seemed to have come right “out of the blue.” I looked around the café, glancing once more at all the people around me, the men with graying hair, the women with creases in their faces that the cosmetics couldn’t hide. “Look,” I blurted out. “I really don’t want to talk about this.”
“Well, I understand Slick, but we need to talk about this some time. I can see it in your face. You wouldn’t know what to do.”
“I don’t want to talk about this. I don’t want you to die!”
“That’s a non-starter, Slick. It’s going to happen.”
“I don’t want you to die, dammit. Can’t we just talk about something else.”
“We can, but I think you need to face this. What would you do?”
As I began to wipe the tears from my eyes I made my admission. “I just don’t know what I’d do without you. I love you, you know that don’t you?”
“Well of course I know that. And I love you too. But we are going to die and unless we die in an accident together one of us is going before the other. And I’ll tell you this, if I go first I’m not coming back, even if it were possible. I’m going to be in heaven, with God and I love Him more than I love you. You wouldn’t keep me from all that my life has aimed for, would you, Slick?”
I sat silently digesting her words. She continued. “Here’s what I think you should do. You should write a book; did you know you’re a really good writer. You’ve lived in this world of ideas and I think it would be great if all you’ve been thinking these years came out so people could read them and think about them. Then they’d get to know the Phil I know. Maybe you could do that and go into some sort of mission field, I think you might be a natural. Maybe you could go into politics and serve people there, you really do care about serving people. There’s a lot to you and there’s a lot you could do. My going to heaven before you wouldn’t prevent any of that.”

We left that café and walked along the shore, hand in hand, for a while. I just silently took in all that had transpired in that café.

A few days later I dusted off an old copy of C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed On page 58 I found the following words:

“And then one or the other dies. And we think of this as love cut short; like a dance stopped in mid-career or a flower with its head unluckily snapped off – something truncated and therefore, lacking its due shape. I wonder. If, as I can’t help suspecting, the dead also feel the pains of separation (and this may be one of their purgatorial sufferings), then for both lovers, and for all pairs of lovers without exception, bereavement is a universal and integral part of our experience of love. It follows marriage as normally as marriage follows courtship or as autumn follows summer. It is not a truncation of the process but one of its phases; not the interruption of the dance, but the next figure. We are ‘taken out of ourselves” by the loved one while she is here. Then comes the tragic figure of the dance in which we must learn to be taken out of ourselves though the bodily presence is withdrawn, and not to love the very Her, and not fall back to loving our past, or our memory, or our sorrow, or our relief from sorrow, or our own love.”

I think that’s what Nancy was trying to get me to see that morning in Cape May. While we are one, we are also distinct and we each must live our lives unto God as one man and one woman. I cannot hold on to her only for all she means to me. That’s selfishness, not love. It all seems like such a paradox. I must love her and she must love me. But I cannot make that embrace so stifling that I would refuse her all that she has sojourned to see and be a part of.

I meant to go in a different direction today, but this is what it is. I meant to look more at Biblical literacy. It can wait a while. It seems that my thoughts meander from place to place these days, occasionally catching hold to gentle little breezes, like today’s. These meanderings, I now conclude are not only part of my aging process, but part of my maturing process as well. I think, if it’s alright with you, I’ll follow these for a while.


Gone Away said...

Very beautiful. And C.S. Lewis was the wisest man of the 20th Century, I think.

Skarr said...

Lovely story, enjoyed reading it.

Pastor Phil Morgan said...

Thank you Phil. You're ready for that day when it comes; now I wish you many more wonderful days with Nancy before that day. Beautifully written - thanks for sharing it.

P.S. Go Patriots!