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’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.