Amid the tumult of a presidential election year, the assaults on our senses and our patience are unceasing, coming from all sides, really, and from people who presume to want to inspire us and to lead us. But their appeals are not to our better angels, instead to our fears and our prejudices and our darker instincts. It is frustrating; it’s even depressing sometimes.
We are better than this, we hope, more understanding of one another and more forgiving and not as gullible as our politicians seem to think we are.
Inspiration that we are all that, that the American spirit is noble and strong, is found sometimes in small places, in unexpected ways from people not prominent, not famous for any reason.
The inspiration was found last Saturday in a steamy Raleigh Rose Garden and a gathering of friends.
His name was Randy, and he died on a Tuesday in August. He was 62.
“Death came calling several times,” a friend said in eulogizing him. “But he said no. He wasn’t ready.”
His was a quintessentially American life, a story of overcoming a sometimes struggling childhood and youth, seeking travel in the Navy, finding a passion in law school (all earned on his own) and in what he would reckon to be the most fortunate day of his life, marrying Lillian.
Randy had a deep, resonant voice, a big smile, a devilish sense of humor. He valued his friends and loved his wife and struggled through life with few complaints, and a steely determination took him, it seemed, over one deadly obstacle after another.
Yes, for this was a life with enough tests for a hundred others.
A childhood illness, scarlet fever, preceded a lifetime of trouble that included multiple sicknesses, kidney failure, transplants. surgeries, cancer. I met him through a weekly gathering of friends called the Roundtable, at Raleigh’s Players Retreat. He never missed, told some stories about the Navy, enjoyed good company and a laugh but only occasionally a beer, given his medical conditions.
He kept coming through the years, though his life was punctuated, almost, by medical crises. So Randy would be out some weeks, perhaps using a cane in others, in touch by email to find out what was going on with the group. He got one email I’d sent to the group about a grandson’s school fund-raiser. Randy was going through another bout with kidney disease, and was too weak to go out at all. When I saw him and Lillian at the grocery store a few weeks later, he was on his cane and as thin as a reed. But he shook my hand firmly, and a glint hit his eyes. “Oh, wait!” he said, pulling out his checkbook to contribute to the boy’s school.
I talked with him by phone (not enough, I now regret) sometimes, and he’d update me, matter-of-factly, on his condition, but he didn’t linger on it. When the other friends realized Randy wouldn’t be coming back to the Roundtable, we took it to him. One night, we played music and told stories, Randy in his chair, smiling.
Finally, the doctors told him there was no hope, that he should stop taking his medicines (he remained on dialysis) and enjoy a few more months. He did. He felt a little better, could go to the grocery store with Lillian sometimes. We called a gathering of friends for his birthday, knowing it would be his last, and he was happy as could be, walking around on his cane, laughing, telling stories.
And he was teaching us, you see, all the time, about courage mainly, and determination, and the importance of keeping up the fight even when it was wearing you down and you knew that ultimately, you would lose. So now, when we speak of him, we talk about that courage and inspiration and how brave he was until the end of a life that had been one hurdle after another.
Here, then, was our lesson, in the Raleigh Rose Garden last Saturday: No matter how loud the volume of all those of larger forums and profiles, the most spectacular courage, the most eloquence, the most dignity, is found sometimes in the lives of those around us, somehow carrying on. Somehow, carrying on.
Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at firstname.lastname@example.org