The first time I met Carl he was dying of cancer. At least, that’s what everyone told me.
I went to the hospital expecting to find an emaciated, worn out, 73-year old man. That was not the case. Carl was propped up in his bed, holding court with an audience of nurses who seemed to be hanging on his every word.
His eyes were clear and bright, his mind sharp, and his wit quick. He did not appear at all to be a man on his last leg.
“I’m not really sick,” he said with a sly smile. “I just like the food here.”
In fact, it was hard to believe he was as sick as he really was. Carl was facing surgery and a round of radiation therapy. But it didn’t seem to bother him. It was just something he had to do. The longer I knew him the more I came to appreciate his calm and confident approach to life and death. To everyone’s delighted surprise, Carl won that battle.
A few months after his surgery, Carl’s wife died suddenly. No one was expecting this. Everyone thought she would long outlive Carl. But she did not.
When I got to his house he was sitting on the sofa reviewing the memorabilia of the life they had shared together. He had photo albums and scrap books. He showed me awards she had won and treasures she had loved.
Tacked to the wall in their living room was a map of the United States. There were colored lines expanding like a huge spider’s web out from Alabama in all directions. The lines ended at major cities, state parks and national monuments around the country. Carl explained that each line represented a trip they had taken together, a journey they had shared. We sat together and planned her memorial service, their final journey together.
Carl had a clear idea what he wanted, and in fact had most of the outline already done. He wanted the service to be a celebration of her life, and a thanksgiving offering to God. It was.
I remember looking into Carl’s eyes during the service, watching them fill with tears as he lifted his voice in the singing of the hymns. Rarely have I seen such a durable faith.
The cancer returned. There have been more surgeries and more treatments. Carl refuses to give in to it. He’s like that annoying rabbit in the battery commercials. He just keeps going and going.
Carl is 91 now. I ran into him not long ago at the grocery store. His buggy was filled with soda pop, cookies and chips.
“I’m having a party for some of my younger friends,” he said, his eyes sparkling with mischief. “But you can come if you want.”
On Easter Sunday, in the Christian tradition, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. We normally speak of resurrection either in the past tense or the future tense. We remember it as something that has already happened, or as a hope of something that will happen.
My friend has taught me another way to think about resurrection. From him and his faith I have seen resurrection in the present tense–something that is happening. Thank you for that, Carl.
James L. Evans, a syndicated columnist, also serves as pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.
James L. Evans is a retired Baptist preacher living in Alabama. Over 35 years, he served churches in Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia. In support of his pastoral work, Evans published 5 books including “First and Second Corinthians: Immersion Bible Studies” (Abingdon Press (2011).