After more than 70 years of living, I still encounter valuable life lessons. An article titled “15 Quotes Filled with Inspiring Life Lessons” begins as follows: “Life’s lessons are a beautiful gift, but they don’t always come wrapped in a shiny red bow. Sometimes tragedy brings us wisdom. Sometimes joy does. Other times we stumble upon life-changing lessons when we least expect to.”
The quote above reflects great truth. Thattruth was reaffirmed for me over the past 20days, ending Dec. 11. Several events grabbed my attention and proved instructive for my living.
The first started on Thanksgiving Day. My wife, Denise, and I got up early and drove eighthours to have time with family in Georgia. My brother, Shelton, was a patient at a local hospital. On April 22, he was in a horrendous automobile accident that left him paralyzedfrom the neck down.
Near the end of Thanksgiving dinner, a callcame from the hospital saying that if we wanted to see Shelton alive, we needed to get to thehospital. Along with some other family members,I rushed to the hospital. There my brother was, in the Critical Care Unit, with a breathingtube in his mouth and lighted monitors onboth sides of his bed.
I had planned to return home to Fayetteville after a couple of days but stayed in Georgia for a week. On Wednesday, Shelton was transported to the local hospice facility. I drove home Thursday. Shelton, my 54-year-old brother, died Sunday morning, Dec. 2.
We returned to Georgia for Shelton’s memorial service, which was held Saturday, Dec. 8. Denise, who is a retired Army Chaplain, delivered the eulogy. It was amazing. She opened up by referring to the book “Halftime,” by Bob Buford. After explaining that “Halftime” is the period of time between our late 30s and into our 50s, the following two paragraphs from her eulogy spoke directly to me: “During these years, as we are attentive, we have the opportunity to discover a different emphasis occurs from acquiring titles and accumulating things to a broad realization that meaning for us is in the significant relationships we build with people around us.
“Often we have this faulty sense of time that we can patch things up later ... or we’ll get things right down the road. Then suddenly the unexpected snatches us up and slams us on our deathbed. Too late now.”
Technically, Shelton was my step-brother. With wonderful parents, I grew up as an only child. My father’s second marriage blessed me with four brothers and a sister. I say “technically” because the relationship between Shelton and me was as brothers. That was more because of Shelton than because of me. I was, and still am, a loner. I am sure it has to do with growing up as an only child and facing the bullying that was directed at me in my youth.
Shelton broke through all that. On my visits home, he always made time to talk with me and make me feel like part of the family. No. He made me know I was a full-fledged member of the family.
Shelton Lamar Merritt understood the importance of relationships. Despite all my walls, he was a true brother to me. His death, and Denise’s eulogy for him, profoundly reminded me that relationships must be a high priority and to not put off sustained efforts to make them whole.
There was also the request put forth by my stepmother. I say, without hesitation, God blessed me with two wonderful mothers: my birth-mother and my step-mother. The latter is simply “Momma.” She requested that when we gathered for Shelton’s memorial service, everybody would stay at her house. That meant some people sleeping on air mattresses and all of us competing for bathroom access. This was not an experience I would naturally choose. However, because of my love and appreciation for Momma, I agreed to stay at the house.
In the end, that time with family was one of the best experiences of my life. We laughed and cried, ate meals together and worked through whatever challenges presented themselves. I found a level of comfort and inclusion that I thought impossible. Jesus was onto something when, as recorded in Luke 10:27 (NIV), he said: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,” and, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Genuine love of others strengthens us for actions that produce unbelievably positive results.
Then came comments from two readers regarding my column that appeared in the Nov. 27 edition of Up & Coming Weekly. The title was “Decision Time for Democrats.” I contended that, given the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives beginning in 2019, Democrats will investigate the Trump administration while failing to legislate.
Nelson Smith, who identified himself as a Democrat, and Susan Dennis agreed to have their comments published. Those comments appeared in the Dec. 11 edition under the heading, “To the Editor.” I gleaned at least two primary life lessons from Smith and Dennis.
First, Smith disagreed with me on some points while, in my estimation, sharing my thinking on others. His response was thoughtful and civil. To have either of those qualities be present today in an exchange where people do not agree is extremely rare. To have both thoughtfulness and civility present is a near miracle. The life lesson from Nelson Smith for me: I must not allow the seeming total lack of thoughtfulness and civility to discourage me from trying to help build a better world.
Second, the comments of Susan Dennis conveyed lament regarding the conduct of some people in this politically charged atmosphere. Here is part of what she wrote: “… just makes me sad that we have come to this. Each of us has to decide how to behave, what behavior is acceptable in any situation, whether directed toward us or toward someone we dislike, and continue to communicate with our Congressional Representatives and Senators as to what our expectations are of them.”
In light of the tremendous general decline of individual responsibility in our nation, I often wonder if there are Americans who are seriously concerned about this state of affairs. I believe Dennis is concerned. Her words and tone screamed concern. Reading her comment, and sensing the sincerity of her lament, boosted my hope for a return to focusing on individual responsibility in America.
Finally, Dec. 11, my wife and I went into a restaurant for dinner. A young white man came over and introduced himself as our server. He addressed my wife as “Darling” and me as “Bud.” I calmly asked if he called white men “Bud.” The server respectfully responded, “If I don’t know a customer’s name, I call women ‘Darling’ and call men ‘Bud.’” He said this with a smile and moved on to engage us in routine conversation. I thanked him for his straight-forward and acceptable response.
That brief exchange reminded me that it is possible to engage in productive discussion of what might be difficult topics. If approached with a focus on mutual respect, reason and resolution, genuine progress is possible.
These were just 20 days of life lessons in a journey of many years. They were positively impactful. I recommend giving continuous attention to the life lessons that come our way. Recognize, learn from and act on those lessons.