My husband’s grandfather has been very sick recently, but the man you see now is only a glimmer of his former self. Known to his grandkids and great-grandkids as “Pepaw,” he stands well over six-feet tall and has a deep, booming voice to match his large stature. He fought in the Pacific during World War II. While there, he replaced the fallen chaplain and conducted funerals for fellow soldiers. He was the obvious substitute. The other men in his unit already called him “Preacher” because of his Bible knowledge and his rich bass.
As a civilian, Pepaw was an auctioneer and a highly revered elder at his church. He is beloved in his small town. Now that he is a few years shy of 100 years old, he’s in a nursing home suffering the aftermath of pneumonia and the ongoing affects of diabetes. But he’s not alone. Memaw, his wife for more than 70 years, drives to the nursing home to be with him every day.
Memaw is a wonder—beautiful, white hair and perfect Southern manners. You won’t hear her complain or say a negative word about anyone. In other words, she’s my standard for best behavior. Because of her commitment to her husband, it wouldn’t occur to her not to visit Pepaw, even though the man in the hospital bed—the man she married all those years ago—isn’t the same.
If you were to ask Memaw why she makes those daily trips to the nursing home, she would be perplexed by the question. In her mind, it’s a given and the living demonstration of her wedding vows. To Memaw, it’s not about her. It’s about them.
Their relationship shouldn’t be remarkable, but it is. If you doubt that people have a difficult time making a commitment, ask your church to put you in charge of finding Bible class teachers and nursery workers. You’ll quickly get the feeling that most people are hesitant to commit. It’s as if they’re afraid something better will come along and they’ll miss out. It reminds me of Jesus’ parable about the banquet guests in Luke 14.
Jesus tells the story of a man who planned a party and invited all the important people in town. When it was time for the party to begin, no one arrived. Instead, they sent their excuses. One guest said he needed to look at a recently purchased field. (A flimsy excuse if I ever heard one.) Another guest couldn’t come because he had bought several new oxen. (Seriously? You pick cows over a party?) The last guest had just been married, so he couldn’t come. (Okay, I get that one. New wives can be pretty needy.)
Once he received the R.S.V.P.s and saw how many were missing, the man sent his servants to invite everyone and anyone they could find. He wanted the party to be packed with every seat filled. Those who made excuses wouldn’t get a taste of the banquet.
I have to assume those who spent the evening looking at a field or checking out an ox, would eventually regret their commitment issues. Perhaps they would eventually look back at their decision to skip the party, and wonder why they marked “no” on the evite.
It stands to reason there have been moments in the past 70+ years when Memaw and Pepaw have doubted their commitment. It’s only natural for two people living in the same house to disagree and irritate each other from time to time. But I’m certain they’re content with their commitment now. As Memaw holds the weary hand of her husband and lifelong companion, she knows she’s tasted the banquet and she wouldn’t have missed it for the world.