Was it birth or death, great sorrow or great joy that filled the hospital room? It was surely at least all of those things. That Robert would soon die was a fact. That his father was recently reborn was another.
This pastoral encounter happened early in my ministry. Robert had been diagnosed with AIDS long before effective drug therapies were developed. Receiving this diagnosis, he debated whether or not to tell his parents. He knew it would be a difficult conversation.
As it turned out, his prediction was correct, although he hadn’t expected his father’s response who, after a long silence, said quietly, “You’re no son of mine,” and hung up the phone. Over the next couple of years, his mother came to visit once or twice.
It wasn’t until Robert had finally reached the end of his life that his father showed up in his hospital room. And then, as surprisingly as he had cut Robert off, he now gently leaned over, kissed him on the forehead and said, “I love you, son.” I was a witness to this quiet reconciliation. The room took on an unusual character. Hard to describe. Death and birth, sorrow and joy, full to the brim and overflowing with the mysteries of life and love.
One of Robert’s friends who heard of this bedside reconciliation said cynically, “Too little, too late.” But that wasn’t Robert’s experience. His father kept vigil until he died. They had a chance to drink from the same well for a time. As it turned out, Robert had his own confessions to make, his own accounts with life to settle. The length of their relational drought was less important than the depth of the waters they drew upon in those last days. And Robert’s father wept when his son died.
Both Robert and his father had been water baptized as infants. But it struck me that the full force of the spiritual gift was only received in the nick of time. It was a powerful bit of business I tell you.
This occurred in the month of January, the month we nominate as our annual opportunity for doing, being, something different. That’s why it came to mind, and why I’m sharing it with you.
Here’s to a year full of opportunity to expand the range of our love and compassion.