When Pastor Truman begins to talk, he talks. The elderly dispense words like baubles and trinkets. Nearing the end, they sense that they can’t take it with them, so they spend wisely.
He’s 95 years old and he has the cleanest blue eyes I’ve ever seen. In fact, when I met him 10 years ago, his eyes were the first things I noticed about him. Today, I noted with sadness that his eyes had turned grey-blue, his age finally catching up to his body.
Still, he was in better shape than I thought. I heard his health had taken a turn, and I was expecting the worst. (I’ve always been a bit nervous around tubes and the elderly.) When I walked in, he was able to stand up, walk over to me and give me a hug. He was connected to a breathing apparatus and the house smelled of cedar and tiger balm.
We sat down and he asked me how I was doing. I told him a little bit about my time in New York: my studies, my job at the UN, my new church. He listened.
Then he spoke: Botswana. World War II. 65-year anniversary. Great-grandchildren. Ministry. Relationships. Death. Haiti. Chiropractor practice. The Methodist faith. Sierre Leone. Love. Adoption. Prayer. Church. Missions. Health. Marriage. Gardening.
Not much coherence, I know. But then again, imagine what it would be like to have a lifetime worth of words, a set of receptive ears, and a limited amount of time to share it…I don’t think coherence would matter all that much. Just halting points, punctuations of thoughts, memories (both of pain and radiance), travels, and emotion that begins with Botswana and ends with Gardening.
While this was happening, my Blackberry was beginning to whine. TIME TO GO TIME TO GO TIME TO GO TIME TO GO TIME TO GO TIME TO GO. WWAHHHHH. WAHHHHHHH.. WAHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!! BBBBBZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ
The grandfather clock struck 3. In the briefest flash of impatience, I glanced at the clock. And his eyes, while dimmed, lost none of its quickness.
“You have to go?”
“Some people are waiting for me.”
He smiled. I asked him to pray for me. He smiled again and began to pray. I bowed my head. He said a lovely prayer. I thanked him.
I rose to say goodbye.
“If you’ll excuse me, I’ll have to say goodbye from here.”
“Goodbye Pastor Truman.”
“Goodbye Chris. Please take care.”
His wife Patsy escorted me out. Outside she told me that Pastor Truman had been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a terminal disease. My goodbye was terminal. She began to cry.
It occurred to me that of all the goodbyes we say in our lives (and we say it a lot), we only really mean it a small handful of times. Most goodbyes are see you laters.
I wanted to go back inside and do it properly without this fucking Blackberry buzzing every three minutes, reminding me of my youth and vibrance, reprimanding me all the while for wasting my time on the final few words of a dying man.
But it was his goodbye, not mine.
He spoke it perfectly and under his own breath.
And for my part, while it wasn’t perfect…
Today, I said my first goodbye.