“The malice of sloth lies not merely in the neglect of duty (though that can be a symptom of it) but in the refusal of joy. It is allied to despair.”
Evelyn Waugh, from The Seven Deadly Sins
Pap, as we called him, was a soldier in World War II. As his grandson, most of my knowledge of his prime years came to me in the form of stories and banter shared between family members at reunions. Pap never seemed to feel it was necessary to tell me much about his life, so I never pried.
I’m told he was an important employee at our local military base, worked in a supply depot during the Great War, and never saw the front end of combat. I’m glad. I have some photos of him that he sent to my grandmother during the war, both shots taken while he poised himself on supply barrels. In one picture he is standing, and in another, sitting.
On the back of one image, the sitting one, Pap wrote a brief love note to my grandmother. I cried the first time I read it. He calls her his “star,” references the old tune “That’ll Be the Day,” and talks about reaching out to the sky to hold his celestial beauty in his arms again. Unlike so many of his war-time compatriots, he did hold his shimmering night jewel once again.
I used to sit with my grandfather on his front porch as he neared the end of his life on earth. Chained to an oxygen tank and a failing heart, he had burdens to carry my adolescent mind couldn’t appreciate. He occasionally held a cup of ice chips close – the only water allowed to touch his lips.
He had come to faith in Jesus later in his life, and he and I would spend long hours talking about the energies of prayer, the strangeness of church, the importance of oxygen and water (both of which were precious luxuries to him), our quirky small town and the mysterious topic of women. I’m glad we got in that last part.
I was with my grandfather on the morning he died. I sat by his bedside, holding his hand. He was trapped in a failing bio-system, crying out in a loud delirium to old army buddies, and more vigorously, to his mother. I cried at his bedside, unable to help him, unable to pray, and unable to emotionally grasp this transformation of a man of profound wisdom back into the semblance of a scared child.
To watch him be a man, and a child at the same time, caused a strange dissonance in my young heart. Then, he startled me. With a firm grip on my hand and a jerk of my body toward his, Pap stared right through me – he had something important to say.
Eyes locked, his as wide as silver dollars and my own full of tears, Pap was as silent and sane as I had ever seen him. With a stare that held me tighter than a vise, he spoke firmly and with military command on his lips:
“Daniel, enjoy your life.
Jesus will take care of you.
I love you, I love you, I love you….”
His eyes fell to half-mast, and his gaze slowly wandered from me. He was still alive, but seemed to have sunk into a solitude having said his peace. My grandfather’s one moment of sanity in the middle of his last moments, and he decided to spend it leaving me a legacy. I just wept at his bedside.
A short time later, Pap died in the ambulance outside of his home on Vine Street. I thought the legacy had been passed on in completeness. I was changed forever. But God felt one more stroke of the pen was in order.
A friend, working on the ambulance crew of our small town, called me a few days after my grandfather’s death. It seems he was on day shift the morning Pap died. With trembling in his voice, he told me that within minutes of driving off with my grandfather in the ambulance, Pap opened his eyes wide, smiled, and lifted his hands to heaven. “I see you Jesus, I’m coming!” were the words filled the ambulance.
With that declaration, he passed from this life to the next. His legacy concluded in a worshiping prayer, a prayer of return home. One last, human phrase to be breathed, and his greatest gift to God fully offered.
I pray differently now. I pray that life would not be a burden for my wife and children, or for the people on my prayer list. I ask of God that joy would follow their steps. I ask Him that life would pivot from being a “have-to” to being a “get-to” – a life lived out in consecration, and not simply in obligation.
If I’m going to look for joy, listen for joy, live in joy and bring joy to the world, I’ll have to infuse my own life with a joyful approach to all things that I do. In Pap’s words, I will enjoy my life, help others to enjoy their own, and help us all to enjoy one another’s lives.
I now approach my prayerful days expecting to enjoy my life, instead of relinquishing my attitude to the endless duties and responsibilities that may mark the hours.
“Give your servant a happy life, I put myself in your hands!”
From Psalm 85 in The Message