On the way home from Cairo (pronounced kay-roe) on Saturday we (my Primitive Baptist pastor friend Chris and I) stopped to visit with Chris' relatives Tom and Joyce in Moultrie. It is a heartbreaking story. Tom’s most recent checkup initially found that he was free of disease with no cancer cells. They were on their way home after receiving the good news when the cell phone rang. It was the hospital and Tom’s doctor wanted him to return to the hospital immediately. It was very bad news. Contrary to what they initially believed the cancer was not dead. Monday morning Tom went back into the hospital to begin an even more rigorous round of chemotherapy and to determine if he would be a good candidate for a bone marrow transplant.
Tom and Joyce see the end of the road, they know how this will most likely end. But it was not the specter of death sitting quietly in the room that moved me, it was their manners, their genuine-ness and the love that filled them both. I had just met them but I was treated as family. My hyper-vigilance set off no alarm bells (which is rare indeed) so I knew I could trust them. We went to them to offer assistance and prayer but we were the ones who were comforted. In the midst of what some days must be a nightmare they were genuinely concerned about us, about making us comfortable. It was not an act, no polite show of manners, it was genuine concern. I am in awe of such courage.
The terrible irony is that the cancer radiation treatment Tom had twenty-five years ago probably planted the seeds of this cancer. Tom injured his back and somehow it seemed to trigger the malignancy laying dormant in his cells.
Many times in our culture there is great emphasis put on how we die. Was it an honorable death? And I hope that when the day comes I will face my own death without flinching. But I now realize that the real test is how we live. What legacy are we leaving behind? Did we love our enemies? Did we love and honor our spouse? Did we raise our children? Do we feed the poor and clothe the naked?
While I spent only an hour with Tom and Joyce I have rarely spent an hour better. In their own time of need they offered love/comfort to a stranger. And I suspect I am not the first. Theirs is a legacy of love, of kindness, of sincerity. Before we left we stood in a circle and held hands while Chris prayed for healing, for endurance, for grace. Holding Joyce’s hand for that brief moment was like holding the hand of my mother.