Billy

Billy, my stepfather-in-law, died last month after a nine-month battle with cancer. During our subsequent four-day visit to Nashville and Columbia, Tennessee, Betty asked me to preach at the funeral, something I haven’t done before. Here’s what I said.

Who can sum up a man’s life?  The finest eulogies diminish the dead. I can’t say what Billy meant to you, either.  I can talk a little bit about what he meant to me, and maybe it’ll add to your own reflections about Billy.

And even though we can’t sum up one another, we can all draw lessons from one another. We’re that close to one another.

At a funeral it’s customary to hear what someone accomplished.  And Billy accomplished things.  He and his first wife raised Joe and Tina. Those are amazing accomplishments! And marrying Betty would have made anyone proud. Billy had great taste in women – he married the mother, I married the daughter – and he was an accomplished mechanic, too.

But his accomplishments, many as they were, weren’t the main message of Billy’s life, to me. They’re not what I learned from him.

When I thought about what to say today, I thought I ought to run it in my mind by Billy. That didn’t take long.  I could hear Billy say, “I don’t care; whatever you think is all right with me!”

Billy was low maintenance. He didn’t ask things from life that life wasn’t about to give him. In an age when we’re all trying to reduce our footprint – our carbon footprint, our demands on our planet’s resources – Billy was ahead of us. Billy has always had a small footprint in this life. He worked, he came home. When he was retired, he walked in the house, and he walked outside. He had his truck, his transistor radio, and his poker machine.

But most of all, he had Betty. Betty dressed him, and he looked sharp. Betty fed him, and he was happy.

Billy was loved.

One of my favorite Bible characters is Benjamin, the youngest son of Israel. What did Benjamin accomplish?  I’ve searched the scriptures: as important as he was, Benjamin accomplished nothing, or at least nothing important enough for the Bible to mention.  But he was always on the minds of his father Jacob and his brother Joseph.  Before Jacob learned that his son Joseph ruled Egypt, Jacob and Joseph got into a tug of war, and Benjamin was the rope. Joseph gave Benjamin more than he gave his other brothers, and Jacob, keeping him in Canaan despite the famine, protected him more than his own life.

Benjamin was loved.  That’s all.  And how much history he made by just being loved!

We had a seven-hour visitation yesterday, and we about needed it all, too.  Billy was loved. His wonderful brothers and sisters – J.C., Charlie, Ruby, Ada, Bob, and Barbara — loved him, and he loved them.

And there’s a part of me, the older brother – part of all of us, I guess – that needs to be like Benjamin, too. That’s what I learned most from Billy.

Just before Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin, she named him Benoni, “Son of my sorrow.”  But his father renamed him Benjamin, “Son of my right hand.” Benjamin was born with a second chance! And Billy knew how to appreciate a second chance, too.

Billy appreciated everything.

I met Billy about the time he bought his truck. The truck is now nineteen years old, and I hear you have to know a few secrets to start it. But the truck didn’t have to move for Billy to enjoy it. The sun still came in warm through the windows.  You could still see through the windshield.

The Bible says we see through a glass, darkly. What Billy taught me was, that’s okay. Or, as Billy would say, “I’m fine with that.” You don’t have to have it all figured out to enjoy it.  You don’t have to earn love.  You just have to take care of your own business, work the program, and let God come to you.  Sometimes, it’s not about coming to God.  Sometimes, it’s about God coming to you.

One day, Billy found himself living next door to Betty.  The girl next door when you’re forty-four – they ought to write a country-western song about that.

And Betty, I’m sure God is singing over you this morning.

We see through a glass darkly.  But Billy now sees him face to face.  And if Billy were to speak himself this morning, I bet he’d say, “That’s okay, too.” And he’d smile that winning smile, and chuckle a little.

Be comforted when comfort’s offered. God bless you all in your grief.

7 thoughts on “Billy

  1. How can I now head off to lunch, with this tear-swollen nose? So few services honor people truly loved; even fewer do justice to the person who lived fully, contentedly, gracefully within a small footprint.

    I love the approach of lessons learned, in lieu of presumptuous summation.

    The girl next door, at forty-four. He knew how to appreciate a second chance. The truck didn’t have to move for Billy to enjoy it. Perhaps that’s the lure of country lyrics: elemental happiness. Why isn’t that on the periodic table?

  2. What an invaluable reader you are, Julie! Now, whether or not you comment, I often write with you in mind, which is a very good thing. The joys of blogging. Thank you so much!

    I hated country when country was cool, but I’ll give country this: it seems to allow itself a much broader set of themes than my beloved rock & roll does. (Though “Timothy” was rock, and I can’t imagine a country song on that subject . . .)

  3. Having just received the gift of raku pottery baby heads, I imagine their tiny charred voices rasping the lyrics to Timothy. Of course, I remain unable to google Timothy. Similarly, I had nightmares for years based solely upon a friend’s glancing description of Omega Man (I Am Legend ).

    Writing in anticipation of my comments sounds the surest way to eschew blogging altogether. And we can’t have that. Perhaps now, however, I can admit this. My summer project is to wrestle a certain bulging folder into either a novel’s first chapter or a short-story, with this standard: would Peter find this interesting. Luckily the bar’s height will spare the world.

    I agree: country at least recognizes the deep-end of the pool.

  4. I’m not sure if my bar’s high or low, but your blog posts cleared it every time. I’ve been thinking of a similar summer project, though I don’t even have a folder yet. But perhaps we’ll spur each other on.

  5. (Peter, when you get a chance, could you see if you have any comments from me in my more usual persona (koshtra) caught in your spam filter? WordPress or Akismet or something seems to have taken a virulent dislike to me under that name, and to be disappearing my comments as I make them.)

    This is a wonderful eulogy. What Julie said.

  6. Dale, right you are! I found your koshtra comment in my spam filter and “approved” it. (“Approved.” Who names these clicks we make?) Hopefully, the filter will remember this lesson and approve any future comments from koshtra.

    And thanks much for the comment itself.

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