When I make myself sit still long enough, I love to watch the wind in the tree tops. It’s peaceful and calming.
There are people in life like that, like wind in tree tops.
Walter was one.
Thinking about him now, I’m a little embarrassed that I didn’t know more facts of his life, like the year he was born, where he was born or where he went to school. I learned a lot when I read his obituary. The Walter I know best is the one who married my aunt, my mother’s younger sister.
He loved her. He loved her son, Adam, as his own. He held things together when her daughter died.
That’s what Walt did. He held people and situations together with peace and calm.
When my boys spent summer days in California with their grandparents, I heard all about their visit with Uncle Walt, what he said, where they went and the airplane flights he took them on. My youngest credits him with his career choice because “Uncle Walt said to pick what I absolutely love to do”. So he absolutely did.
Walt was a successful business man who stayed out of the spotlight. He was a doer and a giver who didn’t want the credit. He was a follower of Christ who didn’t preach. His every day life said it all.
He was gracious and loving to my parents and grandparents. And over time I began to see him as more than just a nice man who married my aunt. He was a good friend and a voice of wisdom.
He loved good books, good conversation, good coffee and wide open spaces. He was pretty fond of trees, too.
He typically didn’t offer opinions, but was happy to oblige when asked. I liked that. Sometimes he said what you didn’t want to hear, but I mostly liked that too. It was honest.
Years ago my parents decided it was time to downsize from a big house to a little bit smaller big house. Mom found the perfect floor plan in the perfect location. They had planned to pay cash but their house was stuck in escrow, and time was running out. Walt didn’t want them to worry and said he would buy it for them. And they could pay him back later.
And that’s exactly what happened.
He bought them a house! He did it as casually as you’d loan someone a jacket or buy them an ice cream cone.
Who does a thing like that?
As the years rolled on, he was there to bury my grandparents. And then he buried my aunt.
When it was time to make big changes for my parents, Walt agreed it was good to move them north with me. He told me I was doing the right thing. Those words relieved me. Because sometimes doing the right thing looks like anything but.
After the move there was rarely a week that Walt didn’t call Mom or she him.
But he hadn’t been well. Not for a long time. He didn’t like to talk about it and preferred to enjoy the good moments, drink the good coffee and spend time with people he loved. And so, one year ago, with that goal in mind he made his last driving trip north.
It took him two days to drive a distance that Doug or I drive in a few hours. We had a great visit, Mom was thrilled and he ate fresh tomato sandwiches straight from Doug’s garden When Walt was ready to leave, all he wanted us to do for him was look on our fancy phones and find him some Dutch Bros. coffee places along his route. He left a happy man… with a list of freeway exit numbers in hand.
Two months ago, Mom called as normal and was surprised to hear he’d been in the hospital… that there was no more they could do… that he was in hospice care.
Doug and I went to see him one more time.
It was obvious he was in pain and didn’t want to talk about that. But one of his first questions was to ask about Doug’s health, which is classic Walt. And since Doug is equally committed to not talking about that either, the conversation moved on. To things like…
… did we have our trust in order? Because, you know, “it’s important for your family”. And we talked a little bit about the knucklehead presidential election… and a lot about fresh tomato sandwiches. We updated him on our kids. He talked about Adam and how blessed he was to have him.
Next morning we arrived with Dutch Bros. and cinnamon rolls before leaving town. Had one more hug goodbye, and hit the road.
It’s been one month today that Walter left us. There was no fanfare at his leaving. It’s been quiet and calm, kind of like wind in tree tops. But I think that would be fine with Walt. It suits his style.
In the book of Hebrews, Paul talks about the heroes of our faith, the forerunners, the trail blazers… people like Abraham, Isaac, Moses and David… how they struggled on their journeys and are now witnesses to ours.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.
Hebrews 12:1-3 NLT
Walt didn’t carry extra weight of any kind… no stress, no bitterness, no worries, no anger. He traveled light and loved well. He did what he knew to do and let the rest go.
I like to think that as Walt made his run that last day, he could hear the excited voices encouraging, urging him forward. And when he opened the front door of home, was greeted with cheers and hugs and high-fives from these happy faces, these who had blazed the trail before him.
And I don’t think he minded at all… a little bit of fanfare.
Well done, Walter.
And, thank you.