"So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart." --Psalm 90:12
At the last church I served there was this guy named Dave. You could like him; you could love him. A whole lot of people did--and still do. He was an honest man, generous with his time, open-hearted and purposeful, customarily wise and gentle. When we added a new wing to the church and remodeled, he was the realistic guy (with an engineering sort of mind), recently retired, who noticed that we might need a little more attention to building management when we added a third more new space to the facilities. No one else wanted to notice that, I guess. Anyway, he remarked about it, and then he offered to be our new volunteer building manager for the church. We accepted, and so began a new adventure for me and for the church. It lasted for several years.
Every couple of days, Dave would show up in my office in the morning in an old pair of jeans and a sweatshirt from one of his kids' colleges. He always had a grin on, and always had a mug of hot coffee that he held across his front. And he'd always step in to see me with his opening greeting--a long, drawn-out, Scandinavian "Sooooo...." That was to get my attention. Then he always followed with the phrase, "Coupla things, Chief...." And then he would fill me in on all the important matters at hand with the building, the custodial staff, the church men who were volunteering on this or that, the most recent projects, and so on. It was the most unpretentious and effective briefing I ever got. "Here's what's going on. Here's what I'm planning. Here's what you need to know. Now, I gotta go get some more coffee and get to work." And off he'd go to do what needed to be done that day.
Dave was such an excellent man. He wanted to use his day well. So... first, you tell the Chief what you're gonna do, then you do it.
Dave always focused on "the day." I think it was an unconscious theme of his. He used "the day" the best he could--whether it was for grandkids, the roughly 150 foster children he and Peg cared for, remodeling projects, lakeside trailer repairs, mission projects in other parts of the country, or just one more day's work at the church. He didn't mind chatting, but he wasn't going to let his projects go unfinished--unless he felt like it.
Dave often completed an analysis of some topic with a favorite phrase, "At the end of the day...." That was his way of wrapping up the "coupla things" he'd been telling you about. He also adopted the practice of a Benedictine monk from St. John's Abbey I mentioned once in a sermon. The monk concluded every message or conversation with this thought, "Have a gentle day." That appealed to Dave, I guess, because forever after, that was also his personal sign-off.
When we learned that Dave was dying from a cancer that was trying to strangle him, and that he was only going to have a very limited number of days to go on, we had a sort of "last supper" with him on a summer evening. We had to speak in the usual cheerful code that people use when they are hoping for the best and fearing the worst. Dave was more honest than any of the rest of us. At the end of the day, just about sunset, he and I happened to step out on the back-porch together. He was quiet. He looked around as if appreciating everything about the day. I asked him, "So how are you really doing?" And he answered honestly: he was afraid, anxious--and yet loved--and he intended to savor every moment of every day until he really came to the end of the day. He said the most important things were family and relationships, and he wanted to make even his last days count, especially with those he loved.
Then we went back in the house--called in to supper, where we broke bread, sipped wine, and shared at the family table. It was a good day.
Have a gentle day, Dave. Now and always. Amen.