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I came across my father’s day planners while sorting through boxes of photographs and memorabilia. I found three: 1997, 1998 and 1999.
Other than the more detailed itinerary his secretary kept, my father just carried with him a small leather bound calendar book – each month laid out in small squares with only enough room to scratch the city he was in, his flight time, the name of people he was meeting or where he was speaking. Occasionally he added what the weather was like. There was not much room for more.
With his busy schedule, I am not sure how he survived with such sparse details. I suppose he called in to his office continually. But to see his life spread out like that – to see it in a month of squares with cities, names of friends and associates, and even to read of a nap he took in the sun half way through October – is strange. It makes it seem so fleeting – months of living crammed into a handful of squares.
And then the entries stopped – and all that is left is blank pages.
That is what is the strangest about sudden death. Life is going along at its usual pace. Plans are made – dates penciled in the future. All the days leading up to that last moment are packed with normal activities – no hint of an end, no slowing down. Even the last appointment he made it to before he died is written there. And then the squares start to become blank – with only notes of things planned. There are planes he didn’t catch. Events he never attended. And then eventually it all ends.
He died in December of ’98 and he already had his 1999 calendar started. The month of January was full of trips and meetings. February had its schedule roughly shaped. There was a vacation planned in April, a few other events for the spring and then nothing. I just kept flipping through the rest of the book – staring at months of empty pages.
My father didn’t keep a journal – at least not that I know of. He had authored a book and as a speaker he of course had scores of notes and thousands of sermons written and recorded. Our storage room walls are lined with videotapes of his interviews with the Christian authors and speakers of his day. But there are only these few jottings, these tiny calendars, that reveal the plans of his daily life and show where the hours so quickly went.
I remember him saying how he loved to keep his old calendars as records of the years and what he had done. Now looking through them, I wonder if he wished he had written down a bit more in them. I wonder if he imagined that I would be looking at them so soon. I know he never imagined it would all be over so abruptly.
The brevity of life is what my father’s early death has taught me. He was full of plans. He lived in the future (but sure enjoyed his naps in the sun.) He feared an early death – his father and uncles all died before they were 50 – but I don’t think he really thought he would die that young. He was 56 and had just begun to get a few grey hairs at his temple. I had noticed them less than a week before. He had not begun to slow down at all.
So now I don’t go a day now without realizing it might be my last. At 33 years old, I am past middle age if I were to die when he did. I know that I don’t have any guarantees. Life seems very short now.
Thumbing through the belongings of the deceased is bizarre. I almost feel like a ghost myself sitting amid boxes, surrounded by the past – a ghost from the future looking at what was, while knowing that I too will soon be part of the past. Will it be my son who picks through my memories, sorting out who I was? Will he find me and understand me? Will I have left enough for him?
It is time to go to bed now – again. The days keep coming and ending – the calendars keep being printed. So many people I knew are gone. And new little ones I am just getting to know are arriving. It is a strange circle – with sudden twists and turns. Tonight I feel like part of a misty fog, whirling around in blindness, not sure where I am coming or going.
My father died December 10, 1998 of a sudden brain aneurysm. He had just driven in from a trip and was at his desk in his office. My mother was at his side as he slipped from his chair and died in her arms.
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