Can you imagine the scene? It was the 60s. Dad was engaged in years of nonstop education, while supporting a too-big family, with his sights set on becoming a respected senior pastor in a big church, with a nice house, on the nice side of town, and a nice new identity.

And now my teenage sister was pregnant.

And HE was 21. He worked in a factory and he walked and talked like a beer-drinking, working-class country boy.

We imagined ourselves above all that, but there she was. And there HE was. That guy. Messin’ with our new identity.

I can’t repeat all the words I overheard when they talked about him. Needless to say, he was not one of us. He was less. Much less.

Except, he was more…

As the next 50 years passed, and they parented three beautiful children, then became the adopted grandparents who took droves of neighborhood kids to baseball games and out for ice cream and gave them safe places to do their homework after school, he was so much more.

He was smart and resourceful and talented and committed – and became more successful, financially and professionally, than we ever could have imagined.

He was loving and loyal and generous in ways we never knew.

And while we all got lost in the big existential questions of life, he just went about living a life of deep meaning, full of unconditional love, easy laughter, spirited camaraderie, fierce loyalty, anger at injustice – and the most beautiful, beautiful heart. The kind that brought Egg McMuffins and easy conversation to my mother when no one else wanted to. The kind that was on the next plane when anyone he loved was in pain or in need. The kind that loved quietly but profoundly – and completely.

It’s easy to think “Karma is a bitch” and his best revenge was that he outdid us all. But that would miss the point. Over the years we came to admire him and treasure him and respect him with unexplainable awe.

And when he passed away a couple days ago – well, I can’t explain the feeling.

HE’s the one who got it. HE solved the big existential question – with a meaningful life, well lived.

So, as I grieve for my sister’s loss (I can’t even imagine), I will honor this beautiful man by modeling him as well as I can: Love fiercely. Laugh freely. Sing often. And go the extra mile – just because that’s what you do.

Simple, huh? Or not. That’s up to us.


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