There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die...
(Ecclesiastes 3:12 NRSV)
The morning of my father's operation, my brothers and sister, and mother gathered in his hospital room. After a while, the doctor came in and said they were ready for surgery. We prayed a prayer and filed out of the room. I was the last to leave, and when I did Dad called me back in. He lifted up the Gideon Bible from beside his bed, pulled out a piece of paper, and handed it to me. "Just in case," he told me.
I opened the paper and read it. They were his burial instructions, penned during a sleepless night. He went over his instructions, line by line. "I want to be buried at the South Cemetery. Have Bob Bales pick the gravesite. He knows where the best spots are. I want you to give the eulogy. If you're not able, ask Pastor Thornburg at the Quaker meeting."
Now it was my turn to care for him. I folded the paper and put it in my pocket. This was a conversation I had never rehearsed and never expected to have. As a minister, I had many conversations like this, but never with my father. Whenever we eat out together, my dad always pays the check. If I reach for the bill, he slaps my hand away and says it's a father's joy to care for his son. Now it was my turn to care for him. Full circle. But it didn't bring me joy.
They wheeled Dad away. Six hours later the doctor came out, a smile on his face. An hour later, we got to see Dad. Five days after that, Dad came home. The doctors were optimistic.
No more red meat or cigarettes, they told him. He agreed and pledged his promise on the Gideon Bible. I took his burial instructions and put them in my desk under glass. Every time I open my top right-hand drawer, I'm faced with my father's mortality. I'm no longer a little boy thinking my daddy will live forever. I'm a man with sons of my own coming to understand how frayed are the cords which bind us to this earth.