Well, Ralph is gone, and we're all pretty sad about it. He was 86 years old, and was only 15 when Pearl Harbor was bombed. He listened with his family, huddled around the bakelite radio that December morning as the news came in. They would gather there most evenings over the next four years, like many other families, listening for news about Ralph's older brother, a fighter pilot stationed on the other side of the globe. When he, (thank God), returned home, he was a quiet young man, carrying too many faces of too many friends who did not come home. Ralph looked up to him, and the two were good friends, for being brothers, and sat many a Saturday morning away in comfortable silence in a small boat fishing at Percy Priest.
Having survived the depression, and two world wars, Ralph's parents instilled a sense of gratitude and responsibility in him that he would later pass along to his three children, five grandchildren, two great grandchildren, three this coming spring. He and his wife lived a good but restrained life, and they enjoyed dancing at the community center and gardening in her treasured rose garden in the summers. They served on the PTA, she was a den mother for the Cub Scouts, and he worked as a registrar at Vanderbilt University, walking distance from their home. He buried his wife four years ago, cancer. The children kept up with him, and were able to tend him in his own home until a tired heart quit beating in his chest this December. His church, where he served as a Sunday School teacher for 13 years for the 6th grade boys, remembered him with fondness and respect, agreeing with his family that there are never enough years to love someone.
At least this is the story I have come up with as I have driven by the sign with the magnetized letters in front of the flat brick church on 31st this season. I never met Ralph, or knew anything about him, but the sign says "Good bye Ralph, we will miss you", and so it isn't a stretch for me to imagine this might have been his life.
When I saw the 1926-2009, I was startled by the reminder that we only get to do this once. There are a lot of things we can do over and over, hoping to improve our choices, forgive a little better, or love a little more. But life is a one use ticket, and I felt the Father urge a little strain from my insides, sorting through what stays on my mind late at night, and what first thoughts I have in the morning. I have asked that He would turn more of my ponderings to Himself, and that as I am communing with Him more, I will then be motivated to naturally choose to be a part of building His kingdom on this earth, in whatever story I am a part of. And I hope that my "good bye" one day will inspire another woman to live each day to the fullest that God intended, like a threadbare sock with a see-through heel, toe holes, and worn out elastic at the top.