This Finite Life

•January 13, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I am, by all accounts, in the prime of my life.  I’m 43.  I have the most beautiful and amazing wife as my best friend and partner.  My three teenage kids are still without a criminal record or a failing grade (none are driving yet).  My business has endured significant challenges, and has, by the grace of God, blossomed over time.  We have a beautiful home with all the trappings of a comfortable suburban paradise.  This is the life.  Right?

I lost my dad in 2014.  Stomach cancer.  It was 4 months from the first sign of trouble to telling him goodbye in that hospice room.  The ironic thing is that we thought Dad was the healthy one, between he and Mom.  My mom has advanced Alzheimer’s disease.  She and dad were married for 49 years, and he was her primary care giver.  Once Dad was hospitalized, the vast majority of what was left of Mom went away as well.  Although Mom is still with us, in many ways, I lost both of my parents in 2014.

We all realize that we will all die.  And yet, somehow, it just seems as though your parents will always be there.  The same is true for the manner in which a parent believes their children will outlive them, and yet many – including some of our close friends – experience the unimaginable pain of burying a child.  I have largely been spared from death in my 43 years, but I have been struggling lately to wrap my brain around the temporary nature of life on earth.

This isn’t even intended to be a spiritual conversation.  I’m not talking about or thinking about eternal life.  I’m talking about this finite life.  In the same manner in which I nearly make myself dizzy trying unsuccessfully to comprehend that the universe goes on and on and never ends…   It seems simply unreal that all of these years, more than 15,700 days on earth, and everything I have learned, and the human relationships I treasure, and the material comforts I crave, and the future I’m planning with great anticipation – could end in the blink of a drunk driver’s eye, or the wrath of a tornado’s fury, or a heart that inexplicably stops beating.  I sort of chuckled just now at the well-known phrase, “living on borrowed time.”  Let’s face it, it’s ALL borrowed time.

I graduated from college in 1994.  It’s 2016.  It is downright sickening how quickly those 22 years have flown by.  When did a week become a day, a month become a week, and a year become like a month?  In another lightning-fast 22 years, God willing, I will be 65.  My dad was 73.  Yes, any of us may leave this world at any moment.  However, even in a best-case scenario, where I live a long and happy life, I know it will be like the blink of an eye.

It doesn’t matter if you’re John D. Rockefeller or Michael Jackson or Paul Walker, no one is exempt.  Today, tomorrow, 22 years from now, 43 years from now…  this life will end, and none of us truly knows exactly what comes next.  So if there’s something you need to say to someone, or something you’ve dreamed of doing, or some risk you’ve been afraid to take, it’s now or never.  Live boldly.  Love deeply.  Give generously.  Find something to be grateful for every day.

One thing I know for sure…  When I leave this world, I simply hope to leave this world better than I found it.

Shoes That Can’t Be Filled

•September 25, 2014 • 2 Comments

Ed Rowe holding little MarcusThat’s my dad and me.  We lost him on September 13, 2014, after a four-month battle with an aggressive form of stomach cancer.  In spite of his cremation, the memorial service, the graveside service, and the many, many tears, it still hasn’t really hit me.

Last night I told a good friend that this is the first time in basically my entire life that if I call the phone number my parents have had forever, no one will answer.  Mom is still with us, mostly – her beautiful mind now ravaged by Alzheimer’s.  Most days, she doesn’t know our names.   And yet, she most certainly wept for Dad.

My sisters and I were each given the opportunity to eulogize our father – a daunting and yet therapeutic task which I nearly made it through without losing it.  I have decided to share my eulogy here, in order to share with the world just a few details about this amazing, amazing man.

——-

My full given name is Marcus Edward Rowe. He lives on in me in more than name.

There are many words that described my dad: Selfless. Funny. Tall. Giving. Animated. Sincere. Loving. Forgiving. Humble, and many more. Let me touch on just a few of these.

Selfless. Dad poured everything he had into our family. It was hard at times. Now that I am a husband and father in my early 40’s, it gives me a whole new perspective on Dad at that age. Times were tight, and while my sisters and I lamented the fact that all the other kids had cable TV or an Atari 2600 or Kaepa shoes, Dad never complained. There were no fancy cars in the driveway. The golf clubs stayed in the basement. The only vacations were going somewhere to visit family. Most of the furniture had been there since before I was born. And yet, the kids all got braces. He found a way. In fact, he found a way for all three of us kids to go on trips to Europe with the SMNW Choir. It would be more than 15 years later before he and Mom went to Europe, in 2005. He found a way to send three kids to out-of-state, private colleges, something he would continue to pay for years after graduation. Instead of trips. Instead of cars. Instead of recreation. We were the desires of his heart.

Funny (or Punny), depending on who you ask. I inherited this one, for better or worse. Dad had this stable of jokes or comments that lasted a lifetime, eliciting laugher from those outside of the family and the rolling of eyes from the rest of us. Even in the hospital, in his last truly good days, he was telling people that he only liked three kinds of pie – hot, cold, and a la mode. When the nurse told him that her dad’s name was also Ed, he replied, “Two Ed’s are better than one.” As I stand here now, I’m having trouble remembering very many other examples. I wish I had compiled a list as the years went by. There would have to be at least one or two useable bits in there.

Humble. At times, to a fault. Always giving credit to others. Often, accepting blame that wasn’t his. When I was 14, which was during that period where times were tight, I got caught shoplifting. It’s a long story – something about a Billy Idol cassette and a pair of sunglasses. At any rate, I still remember standing there in our living room, in front of Dad, who was in his brown recliner in the corner, by the picture windows… and hearing him say something like, “I just feel bad because I don’t have any money to give you to buy the things you want, so you have to steal them.” So, I did what any 14-year-old boy who should be in huge trouble but sees a way out would do. I made some tears and nodded my head. I hope, somewhere inside, Dad knew that wasn’t why I did that. It had nothing to do with him.

This was but one example of how Dad’s love imitated God’s love for us. Years later, when my own children were small, I began to feel his pain, so to speak. When you have small children, you may tell them 100 times NOT to do something. Don’t hit. Don’t talk back. Don’t run in the house. Whatever. Still, they will continue to do whatever it is you tell them not to do. It doesn’t make you love them any less. It drives you mad, yes. And so you tell them again… Don’t do that. And they do. And you love them just the same. That was a big lesson for me. Especially, looking back now. In spite of the shoplifting, the mysterious circles of red spray paint I placed around the outside of our house, repeatedly threatening to kill my sisters, the message on the answering machine saying I left the now wrecked car on the side of Johnson Drive and went on to the school dance anyway, and putting my foot through the attic floor directly above Mom and Dad’s bed… Dad just loved me. There was no, “What is wrong with you?” There was only love. There was no, “Why can’t you be more like your sisters?” Only love. Now, my sisters would simply say that I got away with everything. But I hope and pray my own kids get the same message when they screw up – and they will screw up. There will be consequences, for sure, but nothing will change my love for you.

I think my favorite single memory of Dad is this: When I was young, he would lay on his back on the living room floor, put his hands, palms up, on either side of his head, and let me stand on his hands. He would then basically bench press me – until he had lifted me – standing – a full arm’s length into the air. Then, he would gently bring me back down to earth. I couldn’t get enough of it. And I knew without a doubt that he would catch me if I fell. This was my strong dad. My rock.

I will close with some lyrics I wrote – years ago, actually – that sprang to mind just hours before Dad left us last Saturday. They have never been more true.

The lessons that you taught me
Have made me who I am
You showed me by example
What it means to be a man
Though it took me half a lifetime
I finally know the truth
I may follow in your footsteps
But I’ll never fill your shoes

I love you, Dad.

Name that Cancer / Have You Met Marcus?

•July 9, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I am blessed with two wonderful parents.  I fully realize that many of my friends and acquaintances lost their parents years ago.  Some never knew them at all.  Some had abusive parents.

Mine were and are the how and why of who I am.

DSC05628I have written before about the way in which Alzheimer’s has been ravaging my mother’s mind for years now (My Mother’s Only Son).  In fact, that post was written nearly two years ago, and much has changed since then.  I spent an extended Mother’s Day weekend with my parents – Thursday through Monday.  Monday was the only day she spoke my name.  My Facebook status on Mother’s Day was:

She keeps taking my hand
I think she knows who I am
Just don’t ask her my name

On another recent visit, when my oldest sister entered the room where Mom and I were sitting, my mother asked my sister, “Have You Met Marcus?”

These are excruciating moments.

While I was home that Mother’s Day weekend, my dad started experiencing pain in his midsection.  We all essentially chalked it up to the Pancreatitis he has battled for years.  Since that time, Dad has undergone numerous endoscopic ultrasounds, and had multiple biopsies taken – he’s even had test results sent to the Mayo Clinic for analysis – in order to determine whether he has an aggressive form of stomach cancer or a less aggressive lymphoma.  All tests have been inconclusive.  This week, nearly two months since Mother’s Day weekend, he will have a surgical procedure that could involve removal of his stomach, which would come with great risk.

My dad has already had the “if I don’t make it through surgery” conversation with my sister.

These are excruciating moments.

And so, we will pile the kids into a rented minivan and drive 9 hours because we want them to see their Grandpa before surgery.  Although he is already, physically, a shell of himself – having lost way too much weight recently – they need to see him and hug him and tell him they love him.

September will mark 49 years of marriage for these two.  In June, we moved them onto separate floors of a senior living community.  Mom is on the Memory Care unit on the third floor, and Dad has a place in Assisted Living, on the second floor.  This all hits a little too close to the lyrics of “Where’ve You Been?” by Kathy Mattea.  I used to love that song.

If there is a point to this post – aside from allowing me to put my thoughts into writing – I suppose it is simply to cherish each day.  Thank God for the people in your life who love you, and tell them, often, what they mean to you.

Life is short.  Pray hard.  Love deeply.

The Rock and the River

•February 9, 2014 • Leave a Comment

RockRiver
In the middle of a river, there is a rock.
The rock is strong and stubborn.
It takes whatever the river can throw at it.
It will not be moved.
Day after day, the rock holds firm.

When the river overtakes the rock, the rock holds its breath.  When the river runs dry, the rock bathes in the sun.  The rock is proud.  It knows it is stronger than the river… at least for now.  Over time – more time than any of us has on Earth – the river will wear away the rock.  But not today.  And not tomorrow.

The rock will be right where it sits, laughing at the river.

All around the rock, there is a river.
The river is also strong and stubborn.
It always finds a way around the rocks.
It will not be stopped.
Day after day, the river flows on.

When the storms clouds come, the river grows stronger.  When the river runs dry, its bed soaks in the sun.  The river is fluid.  It knows it is smarter than the rock.  Over time – in mere moments – the river will leave the rock behind, ready for the next rock or fallen tree or beaver dam or waterfall.

And though the rock remains strong, its circumstances never change or improve.  It gains neither strength nor experience nor wisdom.  Every day there is only…  the river.

Meanwhile, the river will learn from each new challenge, absorbing the fullness of the highs and lows of its journey.  The river will press on relentlessly toward the goal – ever forward – ultimately becoming one with the infinite ocean and all the wonders it holds.  It will have long since forgotten about the rock.

In life, you are one or the other. Choose wisely.  Be the river.

Every Day is Once in a Lifetime

•June 21, 2013 • Leave a Comment

sunrise
Today.  It’s not a long word – only five letters.  When spoken, it doesn’t take long to say.  It rolls right off the tongue, and is gone.  And while you can simply say it again, it can never, ever, be spoken again in exactly the same way, in exactly the same place, at exactly the same time – not for all of the riches on Earth.  Most of us forget, pretty much daily, that these same truths that can be said of today, the word, also apply to today, the day.

So, the sun came up this morning, just like it did yesterday, and the day before.  Big deal, right?  Most of us – certainly non-morning-person-me – rarely see a sunrise.  And yet, what a miracle, the sunrise.  And this morning’s sunrise, whether viewed from a remote mountain top or a suburban kitchen table, was completely unique in the history and future of our world.  That moment when the first glow peeked over the horizon, as the breeze gently blew and the birds sang their song, was a one in infinity moment.  And so was the one that just passed as you read that last sentence.

It’s so easy to assume each day will be there.  Children grow up so fast, and many of us put off throwing a ball in the yard with our son or embracing the silliness of dancing on the bed with our daughter for even just one memorable moment.  We believe the lie we tell ourselves – “There will be plenty of time for that.”  And then they’re teenagers who want nothing to do with us.

We leave so much unsaid between parents, siblings, friends, and other loved ones, and then they’re gone.  Parents grow old.  Friends move away.  Life gets busy.  A year becomes as one day.  Decades are amazingly fleeting.

And so I try to do the impossible, to instill in my kids what my dad told me years ago – that the older you get, the faster time seems to pass by.  Eleven years old seems like, well, a lifetime, when you’re eleven years old.  But the eleven years between eleven and 22 will be an amazingly brief journey.  And the twenty-two years between twenty-two and forty-four?  You just will not believe it.

We are all busy.  We all have trials.  We all have bills to pay.  We all let days and even weeks go by without calling that old friend, without telling someone we love that we love them so much.  Hug your kids.  Kiss your spouse.  Pet your dog.  Say what’s on your heart.  Hold a hand.  Pick up a stranger’s tab.  Hold open a door.  Say, “thank you.”  Give thanks.  Write that book.  Call your mom.  Don’t hold grudges.  Bury the hatchet.  Forgive.  Sing out loud.  Laugh even louder.  Cry when it hurts, and there will be hurt.  Love deeply with your whole heart.

We all search for those once in a lifetime moments in life.  Today is a gift.  That’s why they call it “the present”.  Truly, every day is once in a lifetime.

Times when you probably SHOULDN’T hyphenate your name

•June 7, 2013 • 1 Comment

Times when you probably SHOULDN’T hyphenate your name:

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You Could Have Saved Yourself

•March 30, 2013 • Leave a Comment

jesus-on-the-cross1

One word from your majestic lips
That’s all it would have taken
In one breath, you could have flipped the script
and shown them all they were mistaken

You didn’t have to close your eyes
When you chose to pay the price

You could have saved yourself
Let the world go to hell
You could have saved yourself
You saved me

What if you’d spoken the Father’s name
and summoned twelve angelic legions
With your accusers on their knees in shame
You shook the Earth out from beneath them

That’s how the story could have gone
Instead you took our burdens on

You could have saved yourself
Let the world go to hell
You could have saved yourself
You saved me

They stripped you, they crowned you
They laughed and danced around you
They struck you, they mocked you
They spat on you and flogged you

You bore it all, you held your tongue
You said, “they know not what they’ve done”
You chose to die, love that endures
When you said, “Not my will, but yours”

You could have saved yourself
Let the world go to hell
You could have saved yourself
You saved me

© 2013 Marcus Rowe

 
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