Eight days ago I said goodbye to a friend.
In the two and a half years we spent time together he rarely spoke to me. An occasional "Good morning," "How are you?" or "yes" was the extent of his vocabulary.
Mostly he smiled. Sometimes he frowned. Often he raised his eyebrows or squished his nose at me.
But mostly he smiled.
In the days leading up to his death I read the book of James. If anyone lived out that book it was this man.
Consider it pure joy to suffer? Check.
Quick to listen, slow to speak? Check.
Faith must have deeds? Check.
Even in a wheelchair and without words, he ministered.
Three days before he died I went to see him in the late evening. When I walked into his room he was in his wheelchair. He was barely opening his eyes. I put my hand on his shoulder and whispered a hello in his ear. Without hesitation he reached up and put his hand on mine.
At the time, I thought I was going to see him in his last days to remind him of God's promises and let him know he was not alone. It wasn't until I got home that I realized he
held my hand to reassure me.
The way we live matters.
Life in this world means you and I will suffer. Our bodies will not always do what we want. At times we will be frustrated or confused. Things will not always go our way. We may not be able to express ourselves the way we want. We may be suffering in a way that no one else knows or seems to understand.
But we can still love. We can still smile. We can hold someone's hand (physically or emotionally) as we walk with them through their hard days, even if we're having a hard time, too.
The apostle Paul said to "rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn" (Romans 12:15).
My elderly friend taught me the easiest and nicest way to do this is with a smile; a huge smile and a chuckle when rejoicing; a knowing smile and a nod when mourning.
We said our Minnesota goodbye for weeks while he was dying. Now I smile, not at him, but because of him, as I walk with others through this life.
And I hope in my dying days, if I know I am dying, I remember to hold someone else's hand, to tell them with or without words, "I know where I'm going. I'm ready. Don't worry. We'll be together again soon."