Minnesotans … We’re a people known for our extended goodbyes. We start saying goodbye in the living room, lumber through the dining room remembering missed conversations, progress slowly to the entryway discussing plans for tomorrow, follow the guests out the the driveway while providing armfuls of hugs and ample driving advice, and then wave unceasingly as the guests drive out of view. Eventually we walk back inside and turn off the lights, resigning ourselves to the fact that our guests have left.
I’m in the process of saying goodbye now and it is tough. Incredibly tough.
I’ve had the same neighbor for over 20 years now. Rob has been a friend, a confident and quite often a role model to my children. For 18 of those 20 years, he has consistently beaten back the cancer monster. He would go into remission time and time again, only to have it rear it’s ugly head in some other form, but Rob was a fighter and no one ever thought that cancer could overcome him.
As I sat inside Rob’s living room, perched on the couch next to his bed, I made light conversation with him, hoping that he was able to hear and process at least some of the things I spoke to him. Occasionally he would open his eyes and I would see him in there, looking at me, wanting to talk but unable.
“The Cowboys won last night. It was a close game, but they pulled it off in the end.”
“You’ve been the best of neighbors. I couldn’t have asked for better.”
“Thanks for always being there when we needed you. We appreciate you.”
“We’ll be here to help JoAnne out. Don’t worry about her at all.”
“It won’t be long now and your body will be restored; healed.”
“I love you. You will be missed.”
While Rob slept on and off, I gently held his hand and talked to his wife seated across the other side of his bed. We talked about his childhood memories, his kind nature, his football allegiances, his squirrel-shooting hobby, the length of his illness, and his incredibly valiant efforts to survive his odds.
“He didn’t deserve this.” she said. I nodded in agreement. He so did not deserve this.
“This isn’t what it’s about. Life is just a stepping stone for what follows.” she continued.
Amen. I could not have said that better myself. A stepping stone … intricately designed before being carefully set in place, then lovingly positioned into just the right spot, placed to provide both direction and confidence of footing on the journey. Once established in its given path, it quickly becomes dirty with use and time, yet is easily restored to its initial beauty with one sweeping motion.
A stepping stone … just a small part of a journey along a much longer path. Over time it wears down. Through the hot sun, the brisk winds, and the seasonal storms, it gradually erodes – an unavoidable process that begins at the exact moment it is laid in place. Amid the dirt of life and the inevitable erosion, the One who laid that stone is enthralled with its beauty while understanding its very temporary nature. Quite often, time itself will cause that stone’s mere existence to cease. Other times, there will be situations that expedite the process. One day there may even come those that have never known of the stone’s existence. And yet, fragments will continue to be carried along in the sands, leaving an indelible footprint; proof of its time here on earth.
It looked painfully obvious to me that Rob needed to be moving on from this life. His stepping stone had been well-utilized, but was now wearing so very thin. Even though Rob wasn’t a Minnesota native, he (not unlike myself) had mastered the long goodbye – both in everyday life and in leaving for the next life. Now, however, was my turn to linger. In my heart, I knew this was probably my very last earthly goodbye to my friend and walking out his door was extremely difficult. I kissed my dear friend on the head, gently hugged his frail body, and told him I loved him one last time.
Today Rob’s stepping stone has served its purpose; his earthly journey complete.
A light has gone out indicating that one of earth’s guests has gone home.
God speed, my friend. You will be so very missed.
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.