Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Meeting Mr. Skiff

I'd planned on reading the last 40 pages, but it didn't happen. The cell phone rang, too loud for the waiting room. Tammy asked about Mom, and I had little to tell her, with still hours of surgery to go. We talked briefly about her mom, Auntie Lynn, and the absurd diabetes diagnosis ladled over the seven years of cancer treatment, the gravy of chronic disease trying to smother a cancer diagnosis. But my library hush apparently was not enough.

There was an elderly man tethered by plastic tubing to oxygen on wheels propping up a sofa pillow between his head and the wall. He looked like an old pro at the waiting room gig. I didn't remember him from earlier, but he awoke, overhearing my phone call.

He knew Mom had gone back just before his wife. I had gone out to grab some lunch, and he had gone to the corner for a nap. And now, not at all deterred by the open book on my lap, he began a conversation, and decency forced me to oblige him.

"We raised four boys. I don't know how to raise girls. They're all married now, and we've got five granddaughters, five grandsons, and even a great-grandson, Keenan. They're even all still married. Family is everything, and God is good."

He did most of the talking, making it easy on me. He spoke of his faith, of becoming care-giver for his wife, who's going blind. She, too, suffers COPD, because smoking was "Joe Cool," and they were cool for forty-five years.

They married at eighteen and had their first son seven months later. High school sweethearts, now seventy-four, they were never supposed to make it. Do the math. But nobody had factored in God.

"My life's been better than if I had written it myself. The Lord gave me a gift when he gave me her. We were kids when we got married, but we got to grow up together. And growing old together is even better. I'm a romantic, and she gets on to me about it."

It bubbled all forth. A life, the joy, the effervescence of so much living and blessing.

He talked about how life turns out just the way it does for God's reasons. They had a baby girl after three boys. She died five days later with a hole in her heart. "It put a hole in ours," he said.

But if it wasn't for her, they wouldn't have had a fifth child, their fourth boy, and the four grandchildren that followed. "One heartbreak can produce whole lifetimes of joy," he said, thinking back.

We passed stories and two hours of mutual waiting. He recited his poetry to me, and advised that we never stop enjoying our kids.

"The good far outweighs the bad when you have faith. Dinnertimes and conversations, working together, memories and stories: that's what's important when you look back at life from here."

While our two women, his wife and my mother, were behind a closed door having their vision restored and preserved by surgeons, we two in the waiting room, opened a door to each other, and saw with sharper focus the good in life and the grace to be found in a stranger.

When I left him alone still waiting, I squeezed his hand and was now the one to be forward. "May I take a picture with you?"

And this time, he obliged me. "Goodbye, sister," he said, his smile punctuating all his wonderful words.

"Goodbye, brother," it was my honor to say.

Goodbye, Mr. Skiff. Thank you for interrupting my book. I can only imagine I won't see you again until heaven, when I'd be delighted to have you interrupt me again. We will all see fully then, and we'll have escaped the waiting room, but it won't be poor vision that brings us together. It will again be the Lord.


Wedding Clothes, by G. W. Skiff

The bridegroom is calling,
And He is inviting you and me,
But you can't go without your wedding clothes;
He will show you what they should be.

Love is the garment that you wear,
Kindness is a moment you spare.
Patience is listening to your heart.
These are the wedding clothes, a window to your heart.

There's also a wedding feast,
and we're all invited to attend.
The Holy Spirit will teach us
What clothes we must mend.
Joy is the opening of your eyes,
Peace is having nothing to disguise,
And faithfulness is the grace that's in your heart.
These are your wedding clothes,
A window to your heart.

PS. When things like this happen to me, I think they're Jeff kind of things. If you knew Jeff, you know what that means. If not, I'll never be able to explain it.
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