Sleep came hard for me last night. Earlier that evening, Cynthia and I had read together a letter from our long-time friend Wally Norling, who had just returned from the bedside of Betty, his “loving partner in life for forty-two years.” Betty is dying of cancer of the liver, and Wally’s letter, written in the midst of that, was a gracious, understated masterpiece of faith.
I lay there wide awake, reviewing the forty-plus years Cynthia and l have had together. I thought about those innocent early years, which seemed so tough back then. Years of enforced separation (thanks to the military), of a career change, of graduate school, of financially lean times, of learning and growing closer together.
Then came our child-bearing years—wonderful years, so incredibly surprising to both of us. The loss of two precious children by miscarriage, the healthy births of four. Yes, four! The simple joys of tent camping, of early schooling, of struggling with “finding myself” in pulpit style. Discovering much of what “being a pastor” meant. All the while, Cynthia was right there . . . understanding, affirming, being mother to our children and partner with me, assuring me that it was worth all the effort. Though she never bragged about it, l know she prayed me through many a sermon. As I improved, I got the credit, but she deserved the applause. As the song goes, she was the wind beneath my wings . . . and boy, did I need healthy gusts at times! Still do.
Before dropping off to sleep, I did a quick recap of the balance of our years together. Wow! Giant steps through big-time changes. Two people so different, yet so close.
As I remembered all this, I realized anew the enormity of Wally’s loss, and that reminds me of what John Donne wrote in 1624: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man [or woman] is a piece of the continent, a part of the main . . . any man’s [or woman’s] death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
Last night, in the arms of my wife, I couldn’t help but imagine the night that ominous final bell might toll on our marriage. I tried to picture life without my loving partner . . . that dark era when the other side of my bed will be empty and lonely memories will replace the warmth of reality. And, sadly, I fell asleep.
“In the hour of need, the grace of God is more than adequate” (Wally Norling).