The Giant Didn’t Win

It was so hot that day.  September can be like that in Georgia, and that day in 2009 was no different.  Especially on the roof of the parking deck at Emory Hospital in Atlanta.  I had walked all the way to the elevator, taken it down, and was on my way into the hospital when I remembered.  I’d forgotten them.

The rocks I took to Daddy when he was at Emory--in the back our newly planted butterfly bushes and lantana, it all makes me think of him.  He taught me to use a shovel and dig a hole for planting.

The rocks I took to Daddy when he was at Emory–in the background are our newly planted butterfly bushes and lantana, it all makes me think of him. He taught me to use a shovel and dig a hole for planting, and he got me the birdbath and set it up right there. 

The rocks I’d brought him.  From home.  Blackberry Flats.

Just a day or two before, I’d been at their house checking on things.  As I pulled out of the dirt driveway, I remembered I wanted to take him rocks from home.  So I put the car in park, hit the hazard lights, and got out to pick up five rocks from the gravel they’d brought in to level out the ruts in the drive.

Five rocks.  I’d read that five was the number of rocks David had when he went to fight Goliath (1 Samuel 17:40).  Daddy was definitely in a fight for his life against some kind of Giant.  I figured he needed all the fighting power he could get.

Over the next two years, Daddy and I would have some interesting conversations about David.  “A man after God’s own heart.”  How did that even happen?  Have you heard what he did?  What he was capable of?  Wow.  It must be hard, when you’ve lived your life doing pretty much as you should (there was that one story about the rabbit tobacco) and then some, and you find yourself fighting something that is hard to fully comprehend, it must be really hard then to hear a story about someone who did some pretty awful things and yet found “God’s favor.”  I’m just sayin’.

But that day in September of 2009, I made the trek back to my Blazer, refusing to hear the “Oh, just leave them, you can take them to him next time” echoing in my head.  The “what if there’s not a next time” conversations were much, much louder.  Always.  Those words pretty much ruled my actions, plans, and routines for the next two years.  And I don’t regret it at all.

I kept the rocks in my pocket during our time together in the small hospital room there at Emory.  Just before this visit we’d learned the name of this Giant.  Lymphoma.  Of the brain.  A rare form.  As I prepared to leave, I placed the rocks in Daddy’s hands and said, “For the fight, Daddy.  You can fight this Giant.  We know its name and it’s got nothing on you.”

And he did fight it.  For a long time.  After Daddy died in November 2011, Mama gave me the rocks, placed safely in one of those plastic bags the newspapers come in on rainy days.  I brought them home and tucked them in a drawer, unable to bear even holding them in my hands.  A few days ago, I found them and they made me smile.

Because now I’m trying to use them to remind me of Daddy’s spirit in the battle.  In an email I sent out on September 8th, the day the Giant was given a name, I wrote:

Daddy walked around the hall 8 times today!  I asked Mama if he did it because he felt like it or if it made him feel better.  She said neither.  He just did it because they want him to, it helps keep things circulating, and because, though he’s very tired, he’s in this fight.

Rock 1–Persevere.  Even when you don’t feel like it.

I also wrote:

I don’t have a lot more information on the disease because I just can’t make myself google it and “borrow trouble.”  I’m clinging to the doctor’s word “treatable.”

Rock 2–Hope.  That was Daddy’s rule.  Do not borrow trouble.  Whether it was anticipating rain or worrying over the surgery to do his brain biopsy, we were not to borrow trouble.  I have many days I have to remind myself of that rule.  MANY.

Daddy’s form of lymphoma was so rare, the doctors weren’t really sure what type it was.  Mama and Daddy asked the doctor a question about it, and he said he’d have to get back to them on that.  Yeah, we’re still waiting on that one.  In the same e-mail I added:

One of my aunts said, “Well, that’s your Daddy for you–he’s usually in rare form.”  We’re not immune to laughter around here. 

Rock 3–Laugh.  A lot.

When Daddy finally made it home after over a month at Emory, he walked in the back door of his house to find me and the crew there waiting (like one hungry dog does another–ahem) to eat pizza with him.  They had not seen him at all during his time at Emory.  It was such a precious homecoming.  My little guy looked up, mouth full of pizza, and in one of the most anticlimactic moments ever, said, “Hey Cap!” with a big cheesy grin.  Daddy stopped for a second, looked at him, smiled just as big, and said, “Hey, Cooter!”  Happiness abounded.

Rock 4–Treasure the little things.  From katydids on dahlias to baby girls looking for Mustangs to little guys driving Matchbox cars around the hospital bed rails.  Find joy in every moment you can.

Rock 5–Give up.  In his lifetime and especially after his diagnosis, Daddy gave up a lot.  Prejudices, expectations, dreams, plans.  And so much more.  In giving up, Daddy showed us how to fight the Giant with dignity and hope and peace, rather than with the anger and bitterness that could have just as easily taken over our lives.

So I think I’ll put these rocks out where I can see them.  And treasure memories of my Daddy who loved and lived for others, especially his family.  And remember the lessons he taught us as he fought to slay the Giant and prepared to say goodbye.

Because the Giant didn’t win.  It might have beaten his body but it never conquered his spirit.  With each rock Daddy threw–persevering, staying hopeful, all that wonderful laughter, treasuring the stories and time with those he loved, and giving up the script he might have written for himself–with each rock–he kept that Giant from taking over his mind, his heart, and his spirit.  And for that, I’ll always be thankful.

Our Princess playing soccer with her Cap in 2008.  The littles talk about how he can play soccer again now, in Heaven, and they just hope he's playing "really good."

Our Princess playing soccer with her Cap in 2008. The littles talk about how he can play soccer again now, in Heaven, and they just hope he’s playing “really good.”

Goliath’s Mama

pic of david and goliath

A couple of years ago my little guy, when he was about four, became very fascinated with this story.  David and Goliath–only he called them David and “Cletus.”  Ahem.  Anyway, he loved all tales of good vs. evil, and he still does.   Thus the current fascination with all things Star Wars.  The thing is that he loves the bad guys.  I was really worried about this until I was assured by more than one grown, law-abiding adult male that this is a normal thing.  Ahhh.  Huge sigh of relief.

So the story of David and Cletus.  I had to tell it many times until he had it memorized himself.  I thought maybe he had forgotten it until about three weeks ago.  He came up and with a serious expression on his precious little face, he asked, “Mama, who was Goliath’s Mama?”

Wow.

Once again, I had to answer that I didn’t know.  We talked about it again today, and he said he just wants to know who she was.  There is no reason why, “I just want to know.”

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot the past two days.

{Warning–no nap yesterday or today (and it wasn’t for lack of trying) so my filter is once again broken.  I’m just going to say what I think.   I respect your right to disagree, and I even appreciate hearing your thoughts on the subject.  But respect is the key factor here, okay?}

I follow Confessions of a Funeral Director on Facebook.  I know, an interesting choice.  And Caleb Wilde is interesting.  I first became acquainted with his writing when he wrote about “The Homeless Man and the Scone.”  Powerful.   Really good stuff.  Sometimes he posts questions, like he did yesterday.  I am sure that many of the folks who responded were also funeral directors, but still, it made me think.

He asked: Graham Putnam & Mahoney Funeral Parlors accepted the body of Boston Bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev.  But, the cemeteries in Mass. refuse to accept his body.  
How would you feel if Tsarnaev was buried in a cemetery with your relatives?  
Furthermore, do we believe that EVERYONE is entitled to a respectful burial?

Oh boy how the responses varied and how passionate they were.  Y’all may have seen similar conversations.   I was so upset by many of the comments that I talked with my Aunt about this yesterday.  Let me preface this by saying, I did not lose anyone in the Boston bombings, and I cannot say how or if that would change what I think.  Having said that, I do not see how refusing to care for the body or to provide a burial will accomplish anything.

Except more hate.  Yeah, there’s that.

I was raised by a Mama who told us, “Two wrongs don’t make a right,” at least once a day.  Seriously, with four of us, we needed reminding rather frequently.  In later years, she would add, “I know you’re all very bright, why do you constantly need reminding? TWO WRONGS DO NOT MAKE A RIGHT!”

What this young man is accused of doing is horrible, tragic, heartbreaking, and irreversible.  People will be broken from this, by this, for a long, long time.  I wonder though, what good can be served by perpetuating the brokenness beyond his death?  What good can come from returning evil with anger?  I’m just asking.

Because there is that book again, the Good Book, that holds so much good in it.   Many folks whom I know love this Book are forgetting some of the guidance about how to deal with evil and those we call enemies.    My Mama used to talk about heaping coals of kindness on people who had hurt us or made us angry.  It was something she expected us to do, and she empowered us to do it.  I guess she was paraphrasing (or misquoting, who knows) Romans 12:20:  “On the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.”  (Okay, Mama’s was a bit different but I think she got the gist.)  Proverbs 25:21 also tells us to feed our hungry enemy and give our thirsty enemy something to drink.

Here’s the whopper though.  In Matthew 5:44 we are told to “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”  Really? Love? Seriously?  What if I don’t want to?  What if they were really, really evil?

I don’t think there’s a clause for that.

So I thought about this situation last night, and then today Confessions of a Funeral Director shared this:

Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s body has been offered a cemetery plot in a Mass. cemetery.  Paul Keane, the owner of the plot (and Yale Divinity graduate), wrote in his blog “The Anti Yale” that he would like to “donate a burial plot next to my mother in Mt. Carmel Burying Ground to the Tsarnaev family if they cannot obtain a plot. The only condition is that I do it in memory of my mother who taught Sunday School at the Mt. Carmel Congregational Church for twenty years and taught me to ‘love thine enemy’.”

Wow.  Again.

I am moved to tears by Mr. Keane and his generosity and kindness, just as I was moved by a video from a young man in his last days saying that those two things are what count, what it is all about–being kind, being generous.  What a beautiful tribute to his mother.  I wish I could have met Mr. Keane’s Mama.  She raised him right.  I wonder if my Mama has met her and shared stories with her yet.  I think they might just be kindred spirits.

So Goliath…..and his Mama.  I am not sure of the connection, or if there is one.  Maybe just how my mind wanders.  Or maybe I would like to think that this could be a compassionate side coming out in my little guy.   Wondering about Goliath’s family, if anyone was upset about what had happened, if anyone missed him after he was gone.  Because I came across this picture by a Russian artist–and something in David’s face makes me think about Goliath’s own story…..and that maybe David is wondering some of what my little one is wondering lately…..

David and Goliath by Arsen Kurbanov

David and Goliath by Arsen Kurbanov

I really can’t be sure, but I can be sure of this.  Two wrongs don’t make a right.  I know it.  Mama said so.  Heapin’ coals. Hard as it can be, it’s the right thing to do.