Amazing Grace

My creative energies have been directed toward a lecture that I’m giving this week in South Carolina.  So I’m leaving you with one of my first blogs, but one that many of my readers have found touching . . . 

Harold is waiting to die.  There were six of us at his bedside in the county nursing home, leaning toward him singing softly, “Amazing grace . . . how sweet the sound . . . “  Tears in his eyes, he shook each of our hands saying, “Thank you, you don’t know how much that meant to me.”  Little did he know how much it had meant to us . . . much he meant to me.

Visiting Harold as a volunteer offered me a different perspective on life.  For him, all the roles and rules that most of us live by have been stripped away.  This 85 year old gentleman knows that he has a terminal illness.  He tells me that he’s ready to go when the time is right.  He has a twinkle in his eye as he tells me about how he used to sing tenor in the church choir.

Harold enjoys talking about his life:  his years in the army, his career working for the phone company.  He tells me about his wife, about his children and grandchildren.  “I travelled all around the world but New Hampshire is the prettiest place on earth,” he says.  He’s not bitter that he’s dying now – he feels lucky that he lived a long life.  When I sit with him, I feel a certain gentleness, a peacefulness that surrounds us amidst the oxygen tubes and blinking lights.

His implicit message to me is “don’t wait to live.”  “Don’t get lost in the minutia of life; it will be so irrelevant in 50 years.”  When I leave his room and walk down the long corridor, I feel a renewed dedication to live with a joyful exuberance.  And I reflect on how Harold models for me a dying process that is gentle and tender and accepting.  I only hope that I will die with such ‘amazing grace’ when it’s my turn.

Uncertainty is in the air in my house.  Out of our five children, four of them will be attending new schools next year.  The amazing thing is that we have no idea what schools.  What college, what high schools, what elementary school?  We’ve pretty much got the educational span covered.

Not only are Dan and I learning to tolerate the uncertainty, but we’re watching our children tolerate the unknown as well.  Their responses range from calm acceptance to the tearful exclamation, “leave me alone – I don’t know where I’m going!”

Do any of us actually know where we’re going?  We may think we do, but then life has a way of throwing us curve balls.  Learning to manage uncertainty – and trusting in the adventure of it – is a skill that goes way beyond changing schools.

I watch my children on the precipice of change, waiting to see what choices will present themselves.  Smiling quietly, it occurs to me that every day we stand poised at the edge of the unknown.  This moment, without fail, carries us boldly into the next.

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