Sunday, May 26, 2013

Peace in the Valley

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
Revelation 3:20

I held his hand in the twilit room - his parchment-colored, papery-soft hand with the perfectly trimmed nails.  He was sleeping.  Gravity tugged peacefully at the age-folds of his skin, pulling them downward, toward the bed, to pool at the place his head and pillow met.  He was sleeping.  His hand was cool to my touch - my recently hurrying, catch-the-airplane-drive-in-from-the-airport touch.  Calm.  His chest rose and fell in time with the machinery in the room, the quiet room, soft whirrs and muted beeps melting on the edge of hearing.  The edge of consciousness.  He was sleeping.

Our family had gathered in this place to see him, my Uncle Norman, to tell him how much he meant to us, to let him know how much we loved him.  Before he slept forever.  He was old.  He was tired.  He was ready.  We had been called, arriving before it was too late.  Urgency in the travel.  Come.  Urgency in the visit.  We heard the knocking - the knocking at Uncle Norman's door.  Come.  Stay for awhile.  Come.

Well, I'm tired and weary but I must toil on
Till the Lord comes and calls me calls me away, oh Lord!

He was sleeping.  I held his hand.  I thought of years past.  Years of vacations to Indiana - to my parents' home - their roots.  Our roots.  Uncle Norman loved to fish.  He had a smile a mile wide.  He laughed from deep inside his soul, and it made his belly shake.  He taught us how to waterski - my sisters and me - first up with two skis, later with one.  Flying across the lake - like waterbugs - he said.  We were hardly big enough to keep the skis on the water when we started - skittering like waterbugs.

Where the morning is bright and the Lamb is the light
And the night, the night is as fair as the day.

I had started to sing, quietly - one of my favorite hymns.  Holding his hand in that quiet room.  We were a family of songs.  Soon, the room was full of music - melody and harmony blending with the whirrs and beeps - whisper-soft and beautiful.

There will be peace in the valley for me some day.
There will be peace in the valley for me, oh Lord I pray.

He opened his eyes, lids barely moving.  There were tears, tears of yearning.  His lips moved with the words.  We were always a singing family.

 No more sadness, no sorrow, oh Lordy no troubles I see.
There will be peace, peace in the valley for me.

He squeezed my hand, gently, weakly.  I felt his weariness.  I felt him tired.  He used to call me Jannie - even when I'd had a child of my own.  Jannie.  He put my little sister on his lap in the car and had her steer - on the country road, the lane to his house, the house he'd built with his hands.  They giggled that car right into the ditch.  And then laughed it out again.

The bear will be gentle, and the wolf will be tame,
And the lion will lay down with the lamb, oh yeah!

Years before, he had volunteered to serve his country.  When his country called.  He joined the Navy and left home and family to go to war.  I could see the ghostlines of the old tattoo on his arm.  His still arm resting across his chest, barely moving with his every breath.  I held his hand and his lips moved with the singing.

The beasts of the wild will be led by a Child
And I'll be changed, changed from this creature I am.

He was the oldest of seven.  Farm-raised, farm-strong.  Once upon his childhood, he'd had an older brother, too.  But his brother had passed - from a long-ago disease that in today's world would have been a mere inconvenience.  A disease that, in the old days, meant death for a ten-year-old boy.

There will be peace in the valley for me some day.
There will be peace in the valley for me, oh Lord I pray.

He took us to Coney Island - amusement park in the big city.  He took home-movies - my big sister and I wore matching outfits.  Jungle shorts with alligator shirts.  Matching outfits in different colors.  The movies - full of laughter - like my Uncle.  He enjoyed.  Everything.

No more sadness, no sorrow, oh Lordy no troubles I see.
There will be peace, peace in the valley for me.

I held his hand - the hand I remembered when we played cards.  We played Rook, and Hearts, and Euchre.  Whenever the family gathered - the Aunts and Uncles - in-laws and out-laws.  Cousins.  Gathered around the kitchen table - some in, some out.  We learned by sitting on stools behind the grown-ups - the city cousins behind the country.  Watching.  My grandmother thought my uncles were really drinking iced tea - Uncle Norman loved his beer...

And now he was here.  In this home.  Tired.  Weary.  Medication keeping his pain at bay.  It was almost Christmas and his family had gathered.  We were afraid to leave, afraid we'd miss something.  His last moments, his last thoughts.  He squeezed my hand.  It's ok.  You came.  Be a family.  Celebrate.  I could see the hint of a smile - a shadow of the laughter I'd known, the joy I'd remembered.  He was there, my Uncle Norman, shackled to a body grown too old to function.  He was there, ready to answer the door, the door to the Valley of Peace.  He was ready to go home.

We got the phone call on Christmas day.  Uncle Norman passed, peacefully in his sleep.

Today I need to remember my Uncle.  Brother, father, uncle, son, veteran.  Child of God.  Called home on Christmas day - a gift - peace in the valley.

There the flow'rs will be blooming, the grass will be green
And the skies will be clear and serene
The sun ever shines, giving one endless beam
And the clouds there will ever be seen

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