Can't Remember You!

Written by Michael Rawls

Civilization is a stream with banks.
The stream is sometimes filled with blood
from people killing, stealing, shouting and
doing the things historians usually record,
while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes,
make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry
and even whittle statues.
The story of civilization is what happened on the banks.

· Will Durant

He sat there in his room at the Franciscan Care Center, watching television, Wimbledon doubles with those sisters tromping their opponents. He was wearing his workshirt and pants, grey in color, with his name embroidered above the pocket. We walked in, greeted him and sat down to visit. We discussed things that were happening in our lives, in the lives of people he knew, things going on in his community. We asked about his health, and learned what he was going through.

We could tell he was there, but not there. Somewhere in our conversation he said, "I've forgotten a few things."

He had known a life of hardship, and rich reward. He had moved from place to place, started businesses and lost them. He had married a good woman, and raised a family. He was a Mason, a member of the Kiwanis, and could drive just about anything with wheels. He could fix what was broken, or he knew someone who could. 

He had recently acquired and was breeding cattle of a special English stock, rare in the States, and along with the chickens, the dogs, the garden and the special greenhouse for his bride, lived well on a large plot of land in the country. He had designed and built his own home with the help of his longtime friend Vince, who had eight fingers and one thumb.

He was someone who lived what he believed, and he has a firm belief in the goodness of others, and the power of his God. He had a collection of hats that covered the entire ceiling and two walls of the guest room at home. Each hat had a story, and he knew where they came from and who gave them to him. He ran for public office back in the 60's, a newspaper article in a frame proudly announced. Several awards for his service to the community and the groups he belonged to adorned the wall around it. He is a good man, in the true sense of the word.

He is also a good friend of mine, and one of the most interesting fellows I have ever met. He was there when things were bad for me, with support and comfort, and offered me a day's work for a day's pay so that I could feed my family. Just like he has been there for everyone he has ever known.

After a while, he turned to me, and said, 
"I'm sorry, but I can't remember who you are."

I sat there in stunned silence, thinking of something to say that would tell him how much I had come to love and admire him, especially since the loss of my father. All I could think of to say was, "I am someone you have been very kind to over many years." I wanted to say so much more. I am your friend. So many people have been touched by you! I often use the example of your life as a rôle model. It is so sad to see you here, like this. It all fell short. Nothing could convey what I felt at that moment.

Twenty years and more have gone by since I first met him. In that time, we have lost more than twenty friends we have in common. They go slowly, in "nursing homes." They go quickly, at home or doing something they love to do.   Nevertheless, they go. And so many of them! We, ourselves stand in line and wait our turn. Meanwhile, we live. What legacy do we leave?

His is a well-lived life. Yet, here he was, he had no idea where or why. And all I wanted to convey to him was the profound effect his life had had on mine. It was all I could think of at the moment. It was enough. His look of surprise was my answer - this is a humble, but effective, man. As I left him, he said to let him know if there was anything he could do for me. Still giving, serving his God and his friends, still living what he believed from the very center of his life out. Even though he could not remember my name.

Steve Goodier, in one of many uplifting essays on the power of love stated, 

"Those you have sought to reach, whether they be in your family or elsewhere, are part of a chain of love that can extend through the generations. Your influence on their lives, whether or not you see results, is immeasurable. Your legacy of dedicated kindness and caring can transform lost and hopeless lives for years to come."

I realized, in those brief moments while thinking of an appropriate response to my dear friend, that this wonderful man had touched and transformed my life in ways that will he will never come to appreciate, especially in his present condition, but that will be passed on to others - even to you, reading this, it is my fondest hope.

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