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EMPTY SPOT- This particular column I started last week but I had to put it aside for just a little while, so I could get my thoughts a little more coherent and convey the kind of message I really wanted to leave behind. For really the first time, I have been experiencing a bit of writers block that has gone on for more than just a brief period of time. Some of that, I'm sure is a result of the chemo drugs I have been on for a few months now and also probably from the anxiety and struggle that goes along with the illness that makes those drugs necessary in the first place. I hope not too many more weeks are necessary for these drugs, maybe some brain fog will lift, after it is determined I am back in remission.

A couple of weeks ago, as sort of a late anniversary present, my family decided to take in a musical festival a few counties over from our home. After all it was free, so we could afford it and we were just wanting to get out of the house for just a little while. I don't know why but it always seems that we get the majority of sad news, which affects our family, when we are away from home. We had just settled into some spots to enjoy the concert but it was still a while before the show was scheduled to start, so like many of us do these days, I decided to check my phone. The second thing I looked at was a request for prayer from a young lady who attends the same place of worship we do. It said they needed prayers because her stepfather had passed unexpectedly. I had to blink a couple of times, as the gears in my head slowly turned, “wait a minute” I thought, “her stepfather is Don!” It just did not seem real at first. Shortly we confirmed that there was indeed an accident that had claimed the life of our friend.

I first met Don and his family in a “small group” setting. For those readers who may not know “small groups” have become a little more common in recent years among churches. They are a way of getting together in more relaxed and informal settings for discussions and usually food is involved, to make bonding an easier process. I have been involved in several small groups, even facilitated a couple but this particular one, which first began meeting some nine or ten years ago, was kind of special for some reason. We were a bunch of characters who were as diverse as you could possibly imagine, many of us were quite opinionated too, but there was never a cross word said that I can remember. We shared life together; our thoughts, our hopes, our pain, our philosophy and theosophy, our dreams and our sorrow, in short we built bonds that can not be easily broken.

I got to know Don and his family pretty well during the last decade, some of the stories told still bring a smile to my face, one in particular even made me giggle for several minutes, even in the midst of grief; let's just say it involves a broken fish tank and leave it at that!

There was a lot I admired about Don, even though the two of us had quite different opinions in several areas. We happen to vote at the same place in our county and for some reason we would often run into each other there at election. We often joked with each other about canceling each others vote and one time he even tried to convince me that a fellow he knew, who was running for office, was a good man, even though he was of the opposite party than mine. I told him that that party and the word -good- was a oxymoron, he knew I was just kidding though. I know several folks who are good people, who happen to be of the opposite party than the one I am affiliated with. Don himself was as good as they come, there were several things about him that I actually envied, his health was something I truly envied, healthier than most men half his age, heck; healthier than most; period. There was a time when I was nearly that healthy but those days are in the distant past. I have often wished that I could go on some of those bike rides with him though, I'm sure our times together would have been as cherished as other memories I do have . The thing I most admired about him though was his kindness. He deep down and truly, was a genuinely kind man. This is the trait I most admire in any human being.

A few years ago our church made the decision to rearrange the chairs in the worship center. I may be one of the few who knows why they were done in a certain way, because I had also been in several small group settings with our Pastor at the time. He wanted them put, in as much as was possible, a circle. This was done for much the same reason as the myth of king Arthur's round table. To do away with hierarchy, to all be on equal footing, to be a part of family doing life together and not just a pastor putting on a performance at the front. Anyway, when they redid those chairs a lot of our small group was scattered around but Don ended up being almost directly in front of my family, just slightly catercorner. Sunday mornings, right before church started, has for a while now, been spent catching up with what Don and his family have recently done. They would tell us about one of their frequent trips, or Don would offhandedly mention an 80 or 100 mile bike ride he had been on, or my son and him would talk about their favorite parts of the latest Marvel movie.

The Sunday after we got the news of Don's passing, I was scheduled to speak for a few minutes. Our interim pastor (whom is also a fine man I might add,) had asked me to join him, in an interview of why I loved our church. I had a little notice of some of the questions he was planning on asking but most of what I had planned to say went completely out of my head, when we got the news. I did the best I could but out of the corner of my eye, I could see an empty spot, where my friend usually sat. It was not easy, for part of the reason why I love our church is the connections that are made and when those connections are severed somehow; it hurts deeply but that is also what makes it a special place.

One thing my friend did was live life to the fullest, there were no empty spots in it, he worked hard, played hard, and loved fully, he did not leave any empty spots; filled with nothingness.

We may not always be able to do everything we want to do in this life but we can always love to the fullest. When we come to the end of our journeys, let's make sure that there is an empty spot on earth where love once stood; don't let life have an empty spot where love wasn't!



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