Saturday, April 27, 2013


Are we ever truly ready for death?  An unusual question to ponder no doubt, but one many of us have considered from time to time.  When death happens quickly, say in the way of a accident, there is no time to make plans.....touch base with old friends and tie up loose ends.  However, when there is an illness involved......when death is knocking at the doorstep....our opportunity to "square" things is staring right at us.

Last night I received news that a former high school classmate and college roommate of mine passed away  after a couple months battle with cancer. His name is Gary Burman, one most of you don't know.  That's really not the relevance of my words today.  What the fact that Gary did not die a Irrelevant Death.

Peace Be With You Gary.....
When I first heard of Gary's illness in March I struggled with reaching out to him.  It had been some where in the neighborhood of 30 years since we'd talked.  After college graduation, he'd gone his direction and I went mine.  There wasn't a real connection to us anymore, or so I thought.  So for days, I wrestled with the "Should I" or "Should I Not" and looking at the phone numbers for Gary and his wife, Linda.  Finally and slowly I punched the digits of my cellphone.

As the phone began to ring I was filled with all sorts of uncertainties.  What condition would Gary be in?  What would we talk about?  Would I be walking into uncomfortable waters?  What compassion or friendship would I be able to offer?

"Hello?", echoed the strong voice at the end of the line.  "Ahhhh, Linda, this is John Kelling, Gary's old roommate from college", I somehow forced out.  "Hi, John", she shot back.  And that's all it took.  Just a couple of quick words and the rest of the conversation took its own course.  For all the anxiety I put myself through in making the was long gone now.  (let that be a lesson to us all).  The two of us must have talked for five minutes or so as she explained things of what was going on until she passed the phone over to Gary.  What I heard was a weak, soft-spoken Gary....but it was a voice exactly as I remembered.  .    
As we talked, I thought about a whole lot of other remembrances.  Like the fact that our parents were both in the restaurant business in our growing up in small-town Iowa, we were in Cub and Boy Scouts together, he was on the Little League Cubs and I was on the White Sox (two Chicago teams), we both played the saxophone......we got into trouble together (I'll leave that to the imagination) and we both went on to the same college, Mankato State.  We had a whole lot of commonality, the two of us.

Our conversation must have lasted half an hour and in it was some laughter and some tears. But definitely more laughter, especially when Gary related a parasailing experience he had in Florida.  Seems like his fellow employees all got together and sprung a trip on the family to a warmer climate.  Apparently, Gary's son, Joe, wanted to parasail, something Gary had little interest in. However, as the story goes, the driver of the parasail boat had a shirt on with the letters, Y-O-L-O.  And as curious sorts, the family asked what the letters stood for.  "You Only Live Once", the driver responded.  I'm not sure of all the details other than the fact that it was toward the end of the day and the crew offered to let Gary go up with his son.  In many respects, the shirt's "message" couldn't have appeared at more appropriate time.  For both Gary and his son.

That was the last time we talked. And as I hung up the phone, I knew it probably would be.  But that didn't keep me from calling and checking in with Linda.  Over the course of the next few weeks Gary had very little strength, yet....and this is what I find amazing, he'd wake up each day with Hope.  "What's on the calendar for today", he'd ask his wife.

The more I thought about Gary's calendar comment, the more I was intrigued.  How often do we look at each day as a challenge, ready for what's in store?  How important was it for Gary to try and keep his family at a point of "normalcy", when things were clearly close to the end?  Was Gary's desire for another day, another task what kept him alive.....without pain throughout his entire struggle?  Yes, Mr. Burman, that's a relevant statement.

CaringBridge was an especially good tool for Linda (and family and friends) to use during Gary's illness.  There were many days I read her comments and left with a big hurting hole in my heart.  But this morning, as I sat down to share a few words of a life that was not Irrelevant, these words presented themselves.

"As the sun was setting over the lake and began to shine on Gary's face....and into his eyes.....he saw the light and peacefully passed at 1907 (time)......Gary is at Peace with our Lord!"  

'What's on the calendar for today?"......Somehow, Gary, I think you have the answer to that question.



"Thy sun shall no more go down, neither shall thy moon withdraw itself; for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended"-Isaiah 60:20

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


In my last writing I spoke of some of the trials of the mission field....and the fact that missions are not to be looked at as some impossible leap of faith.  It does require some courage, I will grant you that.  The notion of courage led me to suggest a line, "courage sometimes skips a generation".

As much as I'd like to say that was an original thought on my behalf, I'd be lying.  It came from the movie, "The Help", a story concerning blacks and whites in the south and the relationships between the slave/maids and their owner/boss.  Courage was prevalent throughout the show......first from the maids ability to weather tremendous amounts of the wherewithal of a young white woman who chose to write a book about the maids and the treatment they received in her southern city.

What type of a role model had her mother been to the little southern belle?  Well, not much really, that is until shows end.  It was then that the mother realized her daughter had stepped out of the stereotypical attitudes of the town and had forged her own ideas as to the worth and respect the black women should have been given.  In many cases, the maids were more of a mother to the children than their own biological parent.  The mother's remark, "courage sometimes skips a generation" was as much a smack at her own deficiencies.  But truthfully she could have been speaking on behalf of millions of people who let "things happen", by turning the other cheek.  Why?...because their afraid of any kickback to a status in life they think they are entitled to.  And oh, how wrong we are on that account?  

It can seem this daunting to have courage.........
It leads me to the question, "how courageous are you?"  If so, is it something you have passed on to your children? it something they see in you....OR, if you aren't.....why not?

The dictionary offers this nice little package of words to describe the action.  "The mental or moral strength to venture, persevere and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.  But it's not that simple.  If it was, I believe we'd see it far more of it than we do.  So, I wonder, why is that?

Author Steve Maraboli offers this response, which is pretty right on.  "People who lack the clarity, courage or determination to follow their own dreams will often find ways to discourage yours.  When you change for the better, the people around you will be inspired to change also...but only after doing their best to make you stop.  Live your truth and don't EVER stop".  

And then there is our former President John F. Kennedy who stated, "In whatever arena of life one may meet the challenge of courage, whatever may be the sacrifices he faces if he follows his conscience--the loss of his friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow men--each man must decide for himself the course he will follow.

If I think a little deeper on the subject, I see two forms of courage.  One comes from a direct plan.....going against the grain, so to speak, where you are a risk taker.  The other has to do with a reaction to something, say for instance, the type of courage Staff Sergeant Sal Giunta exhibited in Afghanistan in 2007.  For his actions in an ambush of the eight members of his 1st Platoon ....heroic by all standards, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.  The first living soldier to have received such an honor since World War II.  

Giunta remarked, "In this job, I am only mediocre.   I'm average.  I did what I did because in the scheme of painting the picture of that ambush, that was just my brush stroke.  That's not above and beyond.  I didn't take the biggest brush stroke, and it wasn't the most important brush stroke.  Hearing the Medal of Honor is like a slap in the face".

I'm sure it took courage for Giunta to utter those remarks.  But isn't that what so much of this is about?  When the easy way out is right in front......when Giunta could have taken all the glory....he opted to go the other way.....knowing that his fellow soldiers were equally important that particular day.  Courage is not  something easily achieved.  It takes an individual who is resolute and focused. And those seem few and far between any more.   Perhaps that's why we see it skip a generation. And in the world we live in now, that's a  doggone shame.