The day will come just as it does every year. It enters my mind weeks before it arrives. If there were some way to pass over the day and get to its tomorrow I would. But I can’t. I have to go through it and get through it I will. I am referring to July 31st. Though it happened seventeen years apart, both my brothers, Earl and David, died on that date. Earl died in 1989 at age 40 in a car wreck. David died in 2006 at age 54. He died after a life-time battle with severe bipolar illness. Not a July 31st has come and gone in the last three decades that I have not thought of my brothers, first one and then both of them. The truth is there are not many days that I do not think of them. The life each of them led has offered inspiration for my own life. Though different in several ways, both of them had a heart for others, instilled in them through the life of our family. In the family we grew up in, however imperfect it may have been, there was always an emphasis on doing for others. My brothers each embodied that in the years of their lives.
This year on July 31st, I will, of course, be preaching. The gospel lection for this Sunday is Luke 12:13-21, the Parable of the Rich Fool. It is a parable in which human mortality plays a clear role. For the very night he is making his plans for his abundant future, the man’s soul is required of him. All his plans, all his fortunes, were for naught. He died.
The centrality of human finitude to this parable bumping up against the date of the death of my brothers has caused me to do a lot of reflecting this past week. In just a few days, I will turn 54 years old. Any tomorrows I have after that will be more than either Earl or David had. What shall I do with those days? However many days there might be, will I use them for the good of others? Will I seek to make a positive difference in the lives around me? I may have a chance with years my brothers never had, what shall I do with those years?
I used to have large dreams about how my life and ministry would impact the church and the world. As I have gotten older I have realized how important even the smallest acts of kindness are. I went to a minor league baseball game the other night with a group from my church. I have been going to baseball games for close to half a century and never have I caught a foul ball. Never even been close. In fact, I said the exact same thing to my girlfriend when we sat down in our seats. An inning or two later, a ball was fouled off, bounced on the stadium roof and started coming toward me. I got up out of my seat, held out my hands and there the ball landed. After fifty years of games, I finally caught a foul ball. As I went to sit back down, I saw a young black boy sitting a row behind me. He had his baseball hat and glove on. He was looking right at me. For a quick moment, all the sadness around race and stereotypes that is troubling our nation passed through my mind. Since it took me nearly five decades to catch one, I wanted to keep that foul ball, but I wanted something else much more. I wanted that young child to know his life mattered to me. So I pointed at him. He held out his glove. And I tossed the ball his way. I got back a big smile from him and a thumbs up from all the adults that were with him.
I do not know how many days I have left. I do not know how many more times I will have to make it through July 31st. What I know is I want to use whatever days and years I have doing for others. That’s what I remember about both my brothers. Someday, I hope it will be the way others remember me.