Eight Decades of Lessons
In 16 hours this past Thursday, I learned about a lifetime-eight decades worth. I was again reminded about the relationship between a lifetime (noun) and living (verb). I listened to others talk about my Uncle Johnny at his funeral. The exclamation point to the sentence that comprised this day of sadness for loss and celebration of living came in these words by the presiding priest: "sometimes we should consider not life after death, but life before death." I can't help but think that in doing the latter well, the former will be taken care of.
I remember hearing about him long before I remember meeting him. The stories were bold, ornery, outspoken. So was the man. The stories were humorous, genuine, faith-filled and generous. So was the man.
He was four when my mom and dad were dating. The first time he met my dad, he kicked dad in the leg. They were friends from then on. A few years ago, Johnny cried when he told me that my dad had been his hero. Mom and dad always told me how much they loved Johnny. You always knew what you got with Johnny, and people found that refreshing, if not a bit of a challenge. But they loved it, and they loved him.
Almost a decade ago, I encountered a development officer (fundraiser) at Central High School in San Antonio. I told her that my brother and uncle both graduated from there. She didn't recognize my brother's name, but when I gave her Uncle Johnny's name, she laughed and said, "Ohhhh, we know Johnny." The tone of her voice and her laughter affirmed that she most certainly did know him.
A wide range of people knew him, from referees (he officiated college and high school sports in Texas for decades), to musicians (he fell in love with music as a teen, worked in the distribution end of it for his entire career). Musical superstars of almost all genre signed photos and notes to him, often addressed to SOB, short for his last name, and descriptive of how some interpreted his humor, sarcasm and directness.
I heard about much of this before I met him, and understood it all better after I did. Before our first meeting when I was about 13, my mom said, "Be ready, he will likely comment on your long hair. You know how to dish it out, and now you'll have to learn how to take it." My sarcasm was no match to my uncle's! His first words when we met? "Get your damned hair cut." I was strangely comforted that my mom had predicted so accurately, and my "new" uncle was just as advertised. Indeed, he was.
I could go on about his love of Lone Star, skiing, his wife and family, and music. I could cite stories of his generosity and religiousness. I could describe his direct form of inquiry. But, those things don't matter. What matters is that Uncle Johnny lived before death, fully and completely and genuinely. And as we cried to the hymns sung and the stories shared in Mass, we rest assured of his life after death. Lessons learned: live fully.
Listen to Life is a free newsletter about learning and getting more from life by paying attention to our own stories and the stories of others, based on the presentations, writings, photography and workshops by Dion McInnis (www.dionmcinnis.com). Copyright 2010 Dion McInnis. All rights reserved.