I have a friend named Jack. Jack is in his mid-seventies and we first got to know each other years ago when my sons and his grandsons played summer baseball together. My older and younger sons correspond closely in age to his older and younger grandsonss.
A few years after meeting Jack at the baseball field, I accepted a position as a board member for a non-profit in Nashville. Jack is also on the board and we got to know each other better through this. He asked me to serve on a board committee that he chairs. We continued to compare notes on the boys and he was always interested in what all three of my children were doing.
Earlier this year, after noticing Jack had missed a couple of our board meetings, I learned that he had been diagnosed with ALS -- Lou Gherig's disease. It came on him quickly and within a couple of months after his diagnosis, he was in a wheelchair. Today he's mostly confined to a hospital bed.
Jack and his son, the father of the aforementioned grandsons, each sold their respective houses a few months ago. They pooled their resources and bought a house together that has a downstairs living quarters where Jack and his wife now live. The son and his family live upstairs and are, of course, nearby when needed.
Jack was and is an exemplary grandfather. During the summers we were wathcing the boys play baseball, he and his wife scarcely missed a game. If there were any conflicts they would tag-team. Jack enjoyed getting to know and visiting with the other spectators in the bleachers, like me, as much as watching the games.
He always loved to talk. I remember several occasions after one of our board or committee meetings when he would call me just a few hours after the meeting to go over a point that was made or rehash some things. We would end up having lengthy conversations that I always enjoyed. Knowing I was in banking, he also liked to ask me financial questions from time to time.
He was particularly kind to me when my dad died in 2006. He wrote me a very nice note and said he would be available to talk at any time. He said just the right things.
I remember telling Wife that Jack was the kind of man I would like to be when I reach his age. Not only did I aspire to have the fitness and good health he enjoyed, but I also hoped I would have the integrity and depth of character so evident in my friend.
Possessed of a wry sense of humor, Jack has not always been long suffering with his peers. I remember one lengthy Saturday morning board meeting when one of our especially verbose fellow board members had been, as usual, very talkative. Our board chairman made mention of a called board committee meeting on which this member and Jack served. This guy, who could be a little dramatic at times, heaved a big sigh and told the chairman, "I'll be here if I am able to get here."
Jack, sitting by me, leaned over and whispered, "Do you think you can get me over to his house so I can trip him on his way out the door?
A couple of weeks ago, several of us from our board went to see Jack. I was prepared for the worst.
His wife, an attractive and energetic seventy-something, welcomed us with a warm smile and thanked us for coming. She led us into their bedroom where Jack was in a hospital bed, on a feeding tube and a ventillator.
Although it was hard seeing Jack in this state, I could tell with one look that this was still the same old Jack and he had lost none of the characteristics I hold so dear. He can no longer talk but he grabbed and squeezed my hand and mouthed my name. His eyes communicated beautifully.
I told him how Younger Son was playing football and his team was in the state playoffs. His eyes got wide and he grabbed my hand again, and I could tell he wanted more information as things developed.
We said a prayer with Jack and he mouthed "Amen." I was definitely blessed by the visit.
How I hate sickness and disease. How I despise things like ALS, cancer, heart disease and all those other horrible afflictions that attack and hold hostage good people like Jack. Although I was encouraged by visiting Jack, I cuold not help but weep and pound my steering wheel as I drove home, daring to question God as to why Jack would have to be visited with this slow, grueling death sentence -- this condition from which he will, short of a miracle, not recover.
Yet still, I was blessed by going to see Jack, when I was supposedly there to be an encouragement to him. His eyes and his characteristic grace and good humor, still so evident, told me that Jack has accepted this as another bump in the road.
I don't understand it and I don't like it. But I am still thankful for Jack and his friendship.