I sat quiet on the mossy marled bluff overlooking Grassy Lake, sipping strong, hot pinon coffee from the thermos I’d brought with me and concentrating on my breathing. I listened to the breeze whispering to me of my friend. I thought again of the odd thing he’d said as we spoke by phone just an hour or so before God promoted him: “We each exhale one more time than we inhale.” Actively dying, he was still engaging in his first love – teaching, sharing, encouraging others.
“Granger.” My voice had sounded like 3 AM feels when the little device buzzed and the urgent voice on the phone said, “This is Pam in ED. They just brought Rex back in; he’s been asking for you and Doctor says there isn’t much time.” I grabbed the faded jeans and Packers tee I’d tossed on “The Chair”. Jamming bare feet into my worn Docker slip-ons, I grabbed my keys and wallet and was on my way to Starke Medical Center’s ER.
Its barely-controlled mayhem was familiar to me. Yet that microsecond when a sentient being passes from Here to There still impresses me with its sudden contrast and vast permanence. I knew I was about to experience it once again, this time with one of my most revered mentors and my friend. It’s different when it’s someone who means something to you. It’s personal.
“Who are you, young man?”
“Have you a first name?” I told him. He said his name was Rex.
“Why did you come here?”
I remember taking another more careful look at him. My first impression was, well–a typical first impression. His diction, his studied, casual ease of grammar betrayed his easy, comfortable dress and manner. My kid’s mind learned its first lesson from him: slow your thinking that darts here and there like an pre-adolescent laser; put a muzzle on your quick-draw opinions. Remember that people do things as they do for a reason, requiring neither your acceptance nor approval.
Had I not sought him out, I’d have walked right past him as he stood in his driveway rhythmically sweeping dust and grit off the concrete. Nothing about his greyish-tan work pants or sun-aged wheat-colored shirt sought attention. With the long sleeves half-rolled and the tattered straw hat, he seemed like any other older guy.
I made an error common, I suppose, to all youth: I assumed he was less wise than he looked because of his age, and I more so because of my youth.
“Why did you come here,” he’d asked. His questions weren’t rude, but interested. His eyes were keen, seeking. There was a gentle, thrumming power about Rex’s spirit I couldn’t describe, but that set me at ease while drawing my total attention lest I miss a word or thought. In those first moments together I realized why those whom I trusted recommended I seek him out. They also said it might take some doing; he was not easy to find. He didn’t look like Yoda. There sure seemed, though, to be similarities.
“I read a lot, sir. I like good quotations. I found one by a man I don’t know that I really like. “Don’t wait for someone to take you under their wing. Find a good wing and climb up underneath it.”
The man canted his head toward his right shoulder, eyeing me. “Who wrote it?”
“Some guy named Frank C. Bucaro.” The man smiled appreciatively. “That sounds like Frank.”
“You know him?” Again the slow smile. “I spent two years with him. He has a nimble, amazing mind. He’s become somewhat of a specialist in teaching ethics and values-based leadership.”
“Value-ba– So he’s a professor or psychologist?” I remember that made him chuckle.
“Nothing so mundane. Frank’s a dentist.”
“You can come back now.” The nurse was urgently motioning me toward the double “RESTRICTED ACCESS – AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY” doors. Smacking the square metal “Open doors” button on the wall with the bottom of my fist as I’d done so often, I walked into the busy ER. A surgeon I knew bobbed his head at me and, slanting his eyes to the left, nodded to the adjoining second trauma bay.
Eyes closed, Rex didn’t look imposing now. Just tired. In weary repose, he seemed as though he’d aged ten years just since I’d last seen him the previous week.
Glancing from long habit up at the monitor, I was shocked at the low numbers. I eyed the nurse checking his IV lines. She grimaced and shrugged slightly, pointing to the DNR note printed in block letters on the back of a folded sheet and taped to the IV pole.
“Thank you for coming to be with me.” He must have sensed my nearness. His voice was hushed, as one does when visiting an old chapel or church.
The Starke ER was normal for a city trauma center. People die there. To the staff and and cops standing there, Rex was just one more. Yet to me it felt like Heaven had somehow generated a force field, a noise and atmosphere bubble surrounding T2.
There was a sense of the holy there; peace was a tangible thing I hadn’t experienced since my own brushes with leaving this life. I felt it. Looking into his eyes, I saw he did, too.
“Granger, I was waiting for you. Of all whom God has privileged me to mentor, you are the one I choose.”
I stood mute, not understanding.
Rex’s familiar thrumming baritone surfaced through his weakness as he reached for my right hand. Grasping it, he looked straight up and out, through and beyond me, beyond Time and said, “Father, this is the one . . .”
“He will walk through life often unnoticed, rubbing off Your fragrance and character as lilies leave their pollen on any who brush against them. Because of who and how he is, Granger will often be lonely in crowds; not isolated, but unknown. Sustain and continue building him through those times of solitude as he passes among their shallowness like a barracuda glides through a school of anthias.” Rex paused for a couple of breaths.
“They’ll not know Your very Presence has been among them until much later. Let his essence, the aroma of Heaven, waft behind him, touching all.
“Oh Master, lead to him a series of Grangers into whose life he can speak and write Your unknown knowledge. He is the uncommon, gifted writer I always wished I could be. Pour Yourself, Holy Spirit, as living ink through his pen that touches his readers right at the point of their need and draws them to You. Send more and more readers to his work! Bless him with material and financial resources so he may continue this unusual work for which You so obviously have healed him, and to which You, God, keep calling him.
“Humbly I thank You, Lord, for this privilege of pouring all You’ve given me into this amazing, unusual, unique man whom I joyfully in this life have had the pleasure to call my friend. Now lay my mantle upon him, O God.”
Rex laid quiet then. His whole manner slumped. Wiping tears with my left hand, I heard his now-husky, hushed voice say something else. Leaning closer, I looked my question into his eyes.
“Granger, lay your hand over my heart.” He weakly pulled my right hand that he still held over and positioned it over his heart. “Leave it there until I’ve gone. I want to experience this with you, my wonderful friend and brother.”
Moving around the gurney to his left side, I laid my hand over his heart. As I felt its life-giving pulse, my mind wandered to countless times we’d walked together in his garden, discussing. Lessons learned, thoughts soaring like cathedral spires, penetrating glances accompanied by loving piercings of spiritual guidance and encouragement. Thousands of cups of coffee shared over quiet times as we compared new things God was revealing to us both.
His resonant baritone surprised me. “You’ve written so often about Ralph. I’ve been looking forward to meeting him.” He closed his eyes, slightly smiled and said, “We all exhale one more time—” And he did. The sturdy heart that had carried him through so many colorful, amazing experiences was finally still. I selfishly held my hand in place, hoping, perhaps daring even to pray for another beat or two. I thought of Numbers 23:10 Rex and I had talked about several times through the past weeks of his declining health: “I want to die like these right-living people! I want an end just like theirs!”
True to his nature, Rex had preplanned this event and there was nothing to do other than to verify whom he had chosen to handle his final requests. Reluctantly, I withdrew my hand, stood and stepped back from this tiny Celestial enclave formerly known as Trauma 2.
Glancing down at the forgotten mug in my hand, I realized two things. I’d been all but holding my breath as I relived the passing of one of this life’s true legends for me. I’d also let my coffee get cold–something neither Rex nor I ever knowingly allowed to happen in all the years we’d spent together.
Tossing the cold pinon off in the scrub grass beside the rock I sat on, I poured some more from the battered Coleman thermos. As I was threading the stopper back on, it seemed like the wispy clouds out over the lake were forming, “S M H”. Laying the thermos down, I looked eagerly back up there.
Of course not. One’s mind during times of trauma and stress can see all sorts of things not really there. Drawing a deep breath felt so good I drew another.
I sat listening to the lapping of water on the shore below the rocky bluff. I sat listening to gulls ardently discussing the snackworthiness of something they’d found. I sat with moist eyes remembering my unforgettable friend.
Then, sipping several mouthfuls of great coffee, I laid the warm “Perkatory” mug down on the rock beside me. Reaching into my bag for my pad and pen, I jotted the day’s date and wrote the heading . . .
LOOKING FORWARD TO MEETING RALPH.
© D. Dean Boone, September 2016