Have you noticed that death often fosters feelings of sadness even while holding tightly to humor? After a memorial for John Long, a friend from TCU days, I found myself in that strange juxtaposition where laughter and fond memories comingled with tears.
For almost sixty years, I have thought of John as a friend from college. As young married students, we lived in a student apartment near John and Donna. Years later, with young children in tow, we moved across the street from them.
John and I first became friends when state church leaders chose us to be partners in a program known as “Christian Youth Roundup”. At that time, numerous pairs of TCU students ventured out to lead teenagers (scarcely younger than we were) in recreation, music, and church services. John turned out to be a wonderful partner who not only carried out his assigned tasks well but who often kept us amused.
One memorable week occurred while working in a Dunkin, Oklahoma church. Two families provided lodging while other parishioners took turns cooking for us. One afternoon, John and I arrived at a beaten down farm, which swarmed with so many children that not all of them could sit at the table to eat. In a hot kitchen, their tired mother served generous helpings of vegetables along with fried chicken and gravy.
As we began eating, one scruffy young boy plopped down beside me and began describing how he had shot and skinned the rabbits for our meal. I looked at John just in time to see him bite into a mysterious chunk of meat unlike any chicken piece I had ever seen. Although today, I view this meal differently, at the time I considered fried rabbit a bit unconventional — not quite up to my snobbish expectations.
Today, I appreciate that instead of purchasing pre-cut chicken from a grocery store, the family had shot, skinned, cleaned, cut, and cooked the body parts in a way that vaguely resembled fried chicken. Many years and many meals after this event, I also realize that the family, with absolutely nothing to spare, worked very hard to prepare a feast for two young people from TCU. This insight humbles me.
John always gave his best. He served God, his family, and his friends. After years as a minister, he spent time in retirement working with individuals suffering from memory loss. Pictures signify that he delivered the same hearty enthusiasm and fun that he had always given. John lived life with gusto until his final days and thus provided a powerful example for all of us.
I close with words from Joan Borysenko who reminds us, “The challenge is to pay attention and grieve what we’ve lost as a testimony to how precious it has been.” Yes, John, you lived a precious life. Although today I feel sad, I’m also grateful that our paths crossed through the years. Memories of a good friend make me smile.
(John shared how proud he was of his only grandson. I think he had every reason to feel good about this young man!)