I grew up as the youngest of eight children in a family filled with characters. From Mom and Dad on down the line, each of us had a role to play in the serial drama that was the Walkers.
My eldest sister, Jean, for example, was the lively one. Helen Jo was the guileless one. Bud was the talented one. Bob was the funny one. Wanda Lynne was the feisty one. Kathy was the sweet one. And I was the tall one.
And Dick? He was the good one.
Which is not to say that my other brothers and sisters weren’t good. They were — exceptionally so (present company excepted, of course). But there was always something special about Dick. He claims it was just because he came right after our mischievous big brother Bud in the family birth order.
“I had a front row seat for the battle of wills between Mom and Bud,” he told me years ago. “I just figured my life would be a lot easier if, whatever Bud did, I did the opposite.”
But Bud saw it differently. Dick, he insisted, had been touched by an angel. Literally.
When the two of them were still sharing a bedroom, Bud claims he awakened one night to see an angel standing by his little brother’s bed.
“Did you say anything to the angel?” I asked him once after he told the story.
“Are you kidding?” Bud said. “I don’t remember for sure, but the odds are pretty good I had done something naughty that day. I didn’t want the angel to know I was in the room!”
From that night to Bud’s dying day, he always regarded Dick as the good one. And I see no reason to dissent from that opinion — especially after my most recent telephone conversation with Dick. He was calling me from the doctor’s office — a place he has been visiting with increasing regularity these days. For years he has been battling diabetes. He recently found out that he also has a lung disease — the same disease that claimed our mother 31 years ago. And now he’s telling me that the eye that has been so bothersome to him for so many years has completely lost its usefulness and is going to need to be removed.
I spoke to him just minutes after he was told about this latest setback. He was characteristically upbeat about the whole thing.
“I just keep thinking about what a blessing it is that God designed our bodies with two eyes, and that my other eye works fine,” he said. “There are so many people who can’t see at all. I can’t complain about having one good eye.”
Besides, he says, look at the side benefits: “Think of all the fun I can have with my grandkids popping my new glass eye in and out!”
In a more reflective moment, Dick said the steady stream of adversity has given him a fresh new perspective on life and its priorities.
“Look, I’m in my 70s — I don’t have a lot of time left under the best of circumstances,” he said, choosing to leave unspoken the harsh reality that diabetes plus lung disease plus eye removal do not add up to the “best of circumstances” for him.
“To me, the things that really matter have to do with people and relationships,” he said. “Do my children know that I love them? Have I left a lasting legacy to my grandchildren? Is my neighborhood and my community a better, happier, friendlier place because I lived here? This is what counts. Everything else is just stuff.”
For a guy with one eye, he sees things pretty clearly, doesn’t he? Which is why I’m going to reassess my perspectives and priorities to see if maybe I’m paying too much attention to the “stuff” in my life and not enough to people and relationships. Thankfully, it’s never too late for any of us to sharpen our focus on the things that matter most.
Even if we aren’t the good one.
(To read more by Joseph B. Walker please go to www.josephbwalker.com.)