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  • Writer's pictureLeanne W. Smith

Redeem the time

Updated: Aug 15, 2018

The summer of 2018 has packed a wallop. Not because of broken bones and drain flies, as I light-heartedly bemoaned in my last blog, but because Death has collected an unusually high number of people I cherished.

As a logical thinker I know Death has all our numbers. It will find and collect each one of us in the end, unless we happen to still be alive at the Rapture. But that notion is so far out in front of us, so wispy, it plays like a song lyric in my head, like a vision of Irish hills I’ve never seen with my own eyes when I hear Danny Boy playing in the background.

Glenda and Jo each had cancer.

Twenty-six years ago, Glenda called the day I’d had a miscarriage, not knowing I’d had it, to invite me and Stan to dinner. I’d already suspected she was a ministering angel. That day, she proved it. Years later, I sat with her in a gym, on bleachers, watching her daughter play basketball. “I’m praying Emily meets a godly man,” she said. I was quick to quip, “I have a brother that’s not married.” She brightened. “Give him Emily’s number!” That’s how Emily became my sister-in-law and my baby brother’s great life’s blessing.

Jo was the first woman I ever met—maybe the only woman I’ve ever met—unapologetic for eating dessert. She was a warm stirring wind. Once I was riding in the car with her and said, “Do you always go a hundred miles an hour?” I had meant figuratively speaking because she was telling me all the things she had packed into that particular day. She glanced down at the odometer and piped—her every word as buoyant as her driving foot was heavy, “Oh. Am I going that fast?” She had places to be, and she blew into each one of them like a cyclone of joy.

Harvey Floyd’s funeral was Sunday. Dr. Floyd was the professor I most admired. He was the kind who could burn you with his eyes and pierce you with his words, whose lessons you knew would swim in your head for the remainder of your life. For thirty-three years he remembered my name. And while his death was really a victory, it fell between other losses for me, personally. And…being in the professing business myself now…left me pondering whether I live up to the role of influence I have been afforded.

The latest punch to my summer wallop came yesterday.

I grew up with a lot of cousins; my mother is the youngest of twelve. And yesterday, Todd, my very closest in the DePriest clan, died in a lumber accident.

If you’ve ever heard me speak at a writer’s event, I typically mention how I grew up on a steady reading diet of Louis L’Amour westerns. I credit L’Amour as the major influence on my own ideas about what makes a riveting story, and the man who helped shape my notions of a hero.

The set of cousins we were closest to growing up were the four wood working, gun shooting sons of my Uncle Chuck and Aunt Bonnie: Greg, Scott, Todd and Rick—the boys who shared my and my brothers’ love for reading L’Amour and who grew into men that could have stepped right off the pages of those western novels.

Jonathan, Rick, me, Brian and Todd. Thanksgiving 2017.

Todd survived many things—jumping from planes in the 82nd Airborne, the invasion of Grenada, trips to Iraq, and lung cancer. But yesterday Death claimed him.

I am heartbroken—for his family, certainly, and for the world in general. And if you’d ever canoed with him down the Buffalo River you’d understand…or ridden the rollercoasters at Opryland…or played fierce board games of Risk. Todd was fun. He was also a deep-thinking, soulful guy. And one of the best fathers I've ever seen.

There was a season in my and Stan’s past when Todd and his former wife and three-year old daughter were some of our closest friends—when we were living in trailers and old farm houses doing the best we knew how—sharing food, swapping books, looking to a better future.

If this blog post has a message beyond my own need to articulate grief, it is this: redeem the time.

When a friend, professor or cousin you love but haven’t talk to in a while crosses your mind, don’t pass on an opportunity to reconnect. Because Death has all our numbers, and you don’t know when he’ll come calling.

Oh Danny boy the pipes the pipes are calling From glen to glen and down the mountain side The summer's gone and all the flowers dying 'Tis you 'tis you must go and I must bide

But come ye back when summer's in the meadow Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow 'Tis I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow Oh Danny boy oh Danny boy I love you so

But when ye come and all the roses falling And I am dead as dead I well may be Go out and find the place where I am lying And kneel and say an ave there for me

And I will hear tho' soft you tread above me And then my grave will warm and sweeter be For you shall bend and tell me that you love me And I will sleep in peace until you come to me

Danny Boy, words by Frederic Weatherly

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Gayle Swafford
Gayle Swafford
Nov 16, 2019

Thank you. We just lost my brother 3 months ago, quite unexpectedly. I regret that it had been a year since I had seen him. I am grateful to have texted him most every morning.

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