A few weeks back, I attended the wedding of a young lady that I have known since she was around four years of age. Both the ceremony and reception were beautiful, inspiring, and planned with impeccable detail. Even the thing that can't be ordered - the weather! - was perfect.
I guess I am showing my age when I say that at one point before the delicious sit-down dinner was served, the band was "too loud," and I needed to escape to a quieter setting. I looked outside toward a lovely lake, and I saw a ring of rocking chairs set up around a fire pit. I noticed an elderly man sitting in that circle. He was the grandfather of the bride and someone I have interacted with on occasion over my twenty-six years as a Raleigh resident. His presence was like a magnet as I headed his way.
Mr. M was flanked on several sides by a few of his children and grandchildren. He is the father of six, one who has predeceased him, the grandfather of sixteen, and the great grandfather of two. I sidled up to the small gathering and then gladly sat in a rocking chair right next to him offered to me by one of his sons. Much of our conversation took place around the topic of these kids and grandkids. We talked of his wife who died in 2005 and his son who died after a most horrific form of cancer. I had been to each of their funerals. Weddings and funerals are connecting spaces.
As we moved into deeper conversation, all of the hundreds of other people at this celebration fell away. I wanted to soak in every single word he said to me. I desired to understand and hear wisdom from this man on so many topics in life. Here are just a few of the gems I mined in what became almost an hour conversation:
Teaching Sunday School - During the wedding ceremony, Mr M was escorted up to the pulpit to read words from Scripture. He told me that he chose which verses to read. He shared one of my favorites. Micah 6:8 says, "And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." Mr M has taught Sunday school for over sixty years at the same church that he walks to just a few blocks from his home. He told me that, "My favorite Sundays are when just two people show up for my class." I think Mr M lives the "walk humbly" part of the verse he shared.
Soup and Discussion - After Mrs. M died in 2005, Mr. M began inviting "all of the widows in the neighborhood" to come over. He would make a big pot of soup and they would discuss current events, books, or whatever seemed appropriate to the day. I had heard about this tradition from one of his children, so I asked him if he still does this. "Well, most of the widows have died. I still do it about once a quarter, but there aren't too many left to come."
Thoughts on the current state of the union - I knew that Mr M and I shared a great deal of political perspective, and I was feeling kind of down about our country's situation on that day. So I wanted to get the thoughts of someone who has lived almost forty years longer than I have lived. In answer to my questions, he said this: "We are in very dangerous times, but I believe that our democracy will hold. You know that things swing back and forth politically in our country. But this is a wide swing..." I took comfort in the fact that Mr M believes that our democracy will hold.
Inter-racial marriage: At one point as we talked of the changing world, the topic of inter-racial marriage emerged. He said, "You know, I've gotten more liberal minded as I've gotten older. One of my granddaughters moved to southern Texas and met and fell in love with a Latino man. I wasn't so sure I could accept that, but you know, he is a wonderful husband and they have a great life together." I said, "Well Mr. M, I imagine that you would be ok if someone you love marries another of any race." "Well," he replied, "to be honest, there is enough black prejudice in me that would make that situation very hard." My heart sunk and I was disappointed. I guess he isn't perfect... but he is honest. He did grow up in the south. I did not. I said back to him, "Well, I am guessing that if you are faced with this situation, you will make peace with it. You know that most in your grandchildren's generation are not going to struggle with this." He agreed.
As it became time to wrap up this intimate interaction, I told him that I blog and would be writing about him. He said, "please do!" I asked my husband to take a photo of me and my crush. He sweetly complied.
When I joined back into conversation with "my generation," I realized that the time I spent with Mr. M had been discussed and joked about. My husband said, "I thought I had lost you." No. He's stuck with me.
I started chatting with one of Mr. M's sons and he told another story to highlight what an amazing individual I had just encountered. "Dad had to go to the local hospital last week for an infection. The intake people asked him if he had ever been in the hospital before. He said, 'Well, in 1928 when I was five years old, I got my tonsils out.'" We all laughed and realized together what a unique man we have the privilege to know.
Around 9:00 PM, I saw a couple of his children escort Mr. M out of the reception. My husband and I and our friends were not too far behind him.