The Last Word

Jesus sure did know how to deal with an interruption (Matthew 9:18-26, for instance).  I’m constantly amazed by his ability to set aside the pressures and concerns of the day so that he could show grace, love, and healing to someone he meets.  Journalist and cartoonist Allen Saunders once famously said, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans,” and I think that’s true.  Sometimes life isn’t in what’s measured by the clock; it’s in what happens when you aren’t looking at it.  Life isn’t in what you have scheduled; it’s in what you don’t.  I know this is true.  I’ve seen it happen.

It happened one morning as I was taking my son, A.J. to school for the second time.  You see, he had forgotten his backpack the first time and we had to go back home to get it.  As I was locking and shutting the door behind me, backpack in hand and ten minutes late, I saw an elderly man on a bright blue bicycle riding past our house.  I gave a half-hearted wave in his direction as we hurried down the walkway to the car, but for some reason he had decided to stop pedaling and put his feet down as if he wanted to talk.  Apparently he was either unaware or just simply didn’t care that we were trying to keep a schedule.

“Look at that!” he said. “There’s a bluebird just sitting up there on the crown of your house!”

I looked up for half a second, and indeed it was true.  A very stoic bluebird was perched on the apex of our roof, surveying the world below.  “Yeah,” I said, and gave A.J. a nudge on his back to speed his walk down the driveway.  “Have a nice day,” I said, intending to sound more polite than I felt at the time, and with that I hopped in the car with my son and sped him to first grade.

He was only three minutes late if you’re wondering, but the real story here isn’t what the clock said, or where the backpack was, or even how polite-sounding phrases like “Have a nice day” can be uttered without emotion or meaning.  The real story is what I saw when I turned into my neighborhood on my way back home.

There were flashing lights, EMS technicians, a crowd of neighbors on the sidewalk…  and a bright blue bicycle lying idly in the grass.  As I slowly drove closer I saw that the EMTs were kneeling on the lawn, performing CPR on someone.  I couldn’t see who it was, but I knew.  “Oh no,” I whispered to myself as I parked the car and began chatting with a shock-stricken neighbor on the sidewalk.  “We don’t know but it looks like a heart attack,” he said when I asked what had happened.  “We don’t know,” he said again when I asked how serious it was.  “I don’t know,” he said when I asked the bicycle man’s name.  We stood there, sharing the awkwardness of naïve concern while the emergency in front of us unfolded.  In a few short minutes the bicycle man had been loaded into the ambulance and rushed to the hospital.  I said a prayer as I drove home, and said another as I grabbed a quick breakfast and drove to work.  I did not once look at the clock.

Later that day I was coming home on my lunch break when I saw one of the shocked neighbors again, only now he was out in his yard watering his grass.  I stopped the car and rolled down my window, asking if he’d heard anything about the man on the bicycle.  “He didn’t make it,” he replied.  He did, however, know the man’s name and a few other things about him, like the fact that he was a retired football coach and he drove his bicycle through the neighborhood several mornings a week.  I thanked him and introduced myself, then took a few minutes to get to know this man, this other neighbor who was a stranger to me.  As I ate my lunch I replayed my conversation with the bicycle man, and realized that he’d likely died just minutes after we spoke.

“Look at that!” he said.  “There’s a bluebird just sitting on the crown of your house!”

“Yeah,” I replied, and waved.  “Have a nice day,” I said.  A few minutes later, he died.

How could it be that I had the last word with this man, literally his last conversation, and couldn’t do any better than, “Yeah,” and “Have a nice day?”  How is it that he rode his bicycle through the neighborhood most mornings but I could never recall seeing him?  Was I that preoccupied with the clock, the schedule, the rush to school and work and back home again?  How many other people are there in the course of a day that I don’t acknowledge, don’t hear, or just don’t know?  How many bluebirds perch right up there on my roof that I never see?

I’d like to think that I’m better now.  I’d like to think that even when the clock says hurry! or the schedule says now! or the child says I forgot my backpack! I understand that there are more important things, things like bluebirds and bicycles and strangers who might become friends.  The trick is to slow down enough to see them, appreciate them, and even get to know them.  Sure, it takes more time, but the thing about time is that none of us know just how much of it we have left.  It may be that God has given us just enough to see the gift, the blessing, the divine miracle, the life right in front of us.


Copyright 2014 by Lee A. Koontz. All rights reserved.

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