I recently made a trip back to Granite City, Illinois, the town where I grew up. Because I’m a minister, when one of the nieces or nephews has a wedding, it’s not unusual for me to be asked to perform the ceremony. And a couple of weeks ago, I did just that.
One of the very best parts of my trip back home was that I saw someone I hadn’t seen in more than fifty years, one of my best friends during all my grade school days. He and his wife were distant relatives of the girl my nephew married. I had no idea. And when I walked out to stand before the gathered guests as the wedding began, I saw my friend. It was such a pleasant surprise. After the ceremony, during the reception, we found a quiet spot away from the noise and sat together, ‘catching up’ I guess you could say.
He told me where he’d been; he went to college on an athletic scholarship, and ultimately returned to our hometown, where he still lives with his wife. We talked about our boy scout troop, and how we used to walk in the woods searching for sassafras trees so we could cut off their roots, wash and boil them and make sassafras tea. We talked of our school friends who were no longer living; guys killed in Viet Nam. I told him about where I’ve been since we last saw each other, fifty years ago, too. When he heard that I write, he’d love to read one of my books.
Today, he called me to say that he had not only received the book, but he had just finished it. I was curious, of course, about what he thought. He said he wanted to read it again, because some of it caused him to stop and think. He said one line in particular kept roaming around in his head. He said he wrote it down because he wanted to spend more time thinking about it. I was of course curious about what it was.
He said, “You included a quote from Thomas Merton in your book, when he said“Ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat. Ask me what I am living for, and what I think is keeping me from living fully for that.” He said, “You asked your readers, “As you reflect back on your life, and as you imagine moving forward from this Today —this very place you find yourself— What are you living for, and what might be keeping you from living fully for that?” He said, “I plan to re-read your book. That question really got me to thinking.”
I’m so glad I got to see my old friend. He wasn’t old when I first knew him as friend. We spent so many wonderful moments as young kids and teenagers, and if someone would have approached us with a question like “What are you living for, and what might be keeping you from living fully for that?” our answer would no doubt have been, ‘What’s that supposed to mean?” Young people rarely even wonder what they might be living for.
But there’s something about sitting on a bench catching up with an old friend you haven’t seen in a long time that opens the door to questions. Important questions. Bigger questions than where do you live or what do you like to eat. ‘Life-mattering’ questions that get right down on the floor of our lives, and cause us to reflect, wonder, perhaps even change direction.
I’m very grateful I got to see my old friend, and share my book with him. I’m glad he’s planning on reading it again, too. Maybe it will help him think about what he’s living for, and what’s keeping him from living fully for that.
The title of the book I sent my friend? “If I Should Die Before I Live — Sorting out what matters most.”