This is Middle America. This is the generation of “older people” that I grew up respecting, the people who ran or worked for local businesses, tended to their families, and were involved in their communities. This is the group of people who essentially built the world as I have known it. They fought in World War II, came home and went to school or work, marrying the sweethearts they met before or after going overseas. This is the Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner, Crosby and Hope, Bogie and Bacall generation.
This is Richard.
I officiated Richard’s funeral this week, and it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. Sure, there were tears, but many of them were tears of gratitude. Richard had lived 92 good years, was married over 65 years, lived a simple, frugal life with five kids and a number of pets in a proud, well-kept neighborhood community in the city. A neighbor told me he used to have a good walk every morning and evening to and from the bus that took him to work downtown.
Richard was a codebreaker in Italy during World War II. He was proud of his military service and he maintained an interest in the era by building model WWII model airplanes and reading about it. A few years ago he had the privilege of going on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. and seeing the WWII Memorial honoring guys like him.
His wife died a few years ago and it was the one sadness in his life as far as I could determine. Oh yes, he did have one regret from earlier days. While serving in Italy, he came into possession of a beautiful dog to which he gave an Italian name. When it came time to return stateside, he was not allowed to bring the dog with him. The kids told me he talked about that dog for the rest of his life.
Richard loved animals. I’ve always considered that to be a telling feature of a person. If someone loves animals and treats them with kindness and loving care, it usually indicates goodness of character. His last pet was the most affectionate cat I have ever been around. When we met as a hospice team after Richard’s death, we talked a long time about what would happen to the cat; they were that close. Solution: one of the daughters will take her to her home, a continual reminder of her dad’s gentle and kind spirit.
Richard had an active mind right up to the end. Whenever I visited, he was working through a book, or several of them. When he could no longer read well enough, he listened to books on tape, and we would discuss what he was reading. He remained curious and interested in learning until his final days. I always found conversations with Richard stimulating, and I would try to get him to talk about his days in World War II. The one television show he would not miss was Jeopardy.
There came a time when Richard began seeing visions of people standing by his bed and having dreams of past events. We discussed those and he shared with me that he was more curious about them than frightened or concerned. Talking with the family after he died, it became clear to me that his mind was actively reviewing his life and processing his memories.
Here is the text I used for the message I gave at Richard’s service, from Genesis 25:
This is the length of Abraham’s life, one hundred seventy-five years. Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field…that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with his wife Sarah. After the death of Abraham God blessed his son Isaac.
Of all the hospice patients I’ve had the privilege of meeting, this passage perhaps fits Richard better than any of the others. He died in a good old age, an old man and “full of years” – a profound description that speaks not only of his life’s length but also of its quality.
Richard died a man who had lived a good, full life.
Now he lies next to his “Sarah,” gathered to his people.
And I love the way this text ends: “After the death of Abraham God blessed his son Isaac.”
When we lose good people like Richard from past generations we may feel unequipped to take their place. However, God is with us as he was with our fathers – God is our dwelling place in all generations – and his blessing carries on. It is as available to us as it was to Richard, and it may well be that someday a historian will look back and say, “After the death of Richard, God blessed his family and the people of their generation.”
Richard is not a hero in any spectacular, public sense. But to me, Richard represents the best of Middle America, the people who have been my common grace heroes, the “greatest generation” if you will.
These are the righteous, of whom the wisdom psalm says:
The meek shall inherit the land,
and delight themselves in abundant prosperity….
The LORD knows the days of the blameless,
and their heritage will abide forever. (Ps. 37:11, 18)