It was a sunny day, calm, upper 40s, low 50s. Wonderful weather for December, ideal for last minute Christmas shopping. Bob and Beth went one direction upon entrance to the Saturday flea market while I went another. I certainly did not expect the low volume of customers but it was a welcome surprise. It was nice, quiet, no one pushing and rushing. I strolled about at my leisure, hoping the perfect little gifts for my special someones would leap off the tables and into my arms. That never happened. Still, I was happy. I was with people I loved, having a wonderful day out.
I was nearing the end of my ineffectual search when I spotted a small, elderly man sitting behind the tables of his wares. His thinning hair was dirty gray in color. His little chin and the deep set wrinkles at the corners of his eyes and mouth gave him an elfin look. He was neatly dressed and smiling. We made small talk. I normally would have walked off at that juncture but I felt compelled to remain.
I had been listening to Christian radio and recently a host had been talking about how “doing for the least of these” (Matthew 25:40) can be as simple as sharing a smile, a hug, letting someone pour out their sorrows, etc. I found myself gazing into this man’s nondescript color of eyes and wondering what it was he needed. Did he need something that I could give to him? Then it happened. He opened the door.
“My wife died January 13th.”
“Oh. I’m so sorry. Not even a year…” I glanced at the empty wooden chair, catty-cornered to his, that held a jacket. It spoke volumes.
He got a distant expression on his face. “It’s really hard adjusting. Life is really different now.”
I could only imagine the quiet of his house, devoid of his wife’s presence, and the pain of his first Christmas without her.
“How long were you married?”
“Fifty seven years.”
“Wow.” I was impressed, not only because of the length of years, but because he didn’t look old enough to have been married that long. “If you don’t mind my asking, how old are you?”
“I never would have thought it.”
“Yeah, we were married at 6:30 in the evening on September 7th on the army base. I was in the jungles of ‘Nam and going through this is harder than that was.”
Any response I could contrive would never seem enough. So I quietly stood, allowing him his memories, and silently prayed.
“You know,” he said, his round eyes meeting mine, “it’s not in the stuff. People go crazy shopping for Christmas, maxing out credit cards, buy, buy, buy, but it’s not in the stuff. None of life is in the stuff. None of that matters.”
I wondered how many people would have to find themselves in the position he was in to come to that realization. I wanted to cry. I could feel his heartache. He seemed so lonely.
“Do you have any children?” I asked.
“No. We tried, but we never had any. We found out (too late) that she was full of fibroid tumors–lots of them. You wouldn’t believe how many they took out of her.”
That solace had been stolen from him. “I’m sorry,” I said.
He gave a little smile. “Thank you.” Even though they had wanted to have children but couldn’t there seemed to be no bitterness about him. In fact, he didn’t seem bitter about anything, unless it was the value people placed on stuff. He simply seemed sad.
“Can I give you a hug?” I asked.
He stood from his chair. “Yes.”
I walked around the backside of his area and met him there. I held him and whispered a prayer of peace and comfort in his ear and let him go. We wished each other a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and parted when a potential buyer came.
I’ve thought of John often since that day and sent up more prayers for him. I’ve wondered what the responses would be if a couple of teenagers I know had a chance meeting with John. Would they get it? Or would his message of how meaningless stuff is fall on deaf ears and hard hearts? They at least are young, with (hopefully) lots of time to realize the value of people. What about the adults, maybe some turning on their death beds, who finally come to the realization that it’s not in the stuff. God, would that all of us would come to that realization long before then.
I didn’t expect to have the Christmas that I did. I literally feel spoiled with all of the stuff that I got. But it’s not in the stuff. None of the stuff matters; it’s the hearts full of love for me that the stuff represents that gives it meaning. And even in that, I could live without the stuff. Like John, I’d find my life totally upended if I was without my family and friends. And God…totally hopeless without Him. John had made reference to Him. I suppose that’s how he survived Vietnam. I suppose that’s how he managed for nearly a year without his wife of 57 years. Without God, there’s no managing anything. Without God, there’s nothing.
We may never get 100 hundred years as found in the lyrics of today’s featured song, but we need to make the time that we do have count. It really does go by so very, very fast. Join me today in making a conscious effort to put the stuff in its proper place–which is meaningless in the light of God, family, and friends.
picturequotes.com ~Theodor Seuss Geisel
For John, and others whose hearts are broken, may you be aware of the Presence of the Mender of the brokenhearted today and always.
He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds. Psalm 147:3 KJV