My church friend Mr. Ransone had COPD and cancer in his bones, but he was one of the most joyful people I've ever known. By the time I met him, he was already outliving a prognosis, so I tried to listen, really listen, to everything he said. I never heard him pray a closing prayer that I didn't cry. Once, he and Mrs. Ransone slipped me $60 cash after their family had eaten in my section at the restaurant. Another time, they fed my kids Girl Scout cookies from the very boxes my girls had just delivered.
My most precious time with Mr. Ransone, though, was when I visited him and Mrs. Ransone by myself. I'd been feeling for some time as though I were supposed to have a conversation with Mr. Ransone about joy: a fruit of the Spirit I find particularly elusive at times. The feeling had become increasingly urgent, and--fearing I would lose Mr. Ransone before allowing him to speak into my life--I arranged to visit.
The three of us settled into the Ransones' living room, and Mr. Ransone almost immediately offered the bit of wisdom I had been seeking. It wasn't anything close to what I had expected, but I knew in my spirit it was what I was meant to hear. I'm not sure I could've received it from anyone else, but because Mr. Ransone--in all of his Jesus-y sunshine--spoke it, I tucked it into my heart.
|Mr. Ransone, the Day of My Visit|
Early Saturday morning, the girls and I were tent camping with the Girl Scouts in wind with a speed as high as twenty miles per hour and gusts as high as thirty. At the time I had no idea, but Mr. Ransone was drawing his last breaths as the girls' and my tent collapsed. We moved to the minivan to sleep, making plans to participate fully in the day's events but, after dark, return home.
Around lunchtime, I received both my pastor's message about Mr. Ransone's passing and a message from one of my first cousins. She lives in Maryland but was in the area; would I like to get together, Sunday? In the end, she and her family (a party of nine!) not only attended our church but also spent the rest of the day at our house, eating two meals with us. They had never before visited either our church or our house. It wasn't lost on me: the last time I had been surrounded by her bunch had been at my grandma's (not her grandma's) funeral. It wasn't lost on me: had the girls' and my tent not collapsed, I wouldn't have been home to connect with my cousins. I had, in fact, announced to my pastor and choir leader that I would not be at church; yet, there I was, with thirteen family members to include Cade, who had evidently forgotten about the girls' and my camping trip and driven to church from his dad's.
I am, when mentally taxed, susceptible to magical thinking. I know this about myself and try to guard against it but have to wonder, nonetheless: is the timing of Mr. Ransone's death linked to the collapse of the tent, which led to my being available for my cousins' rare and precious visit? What, if anything, does it mean that--as I sat grieving in the pew, Sunday morning, inexplicably surrounded by out-of-state family--my pastor preached out of I John, identifying it as a letter written that our "joy may be full." Did I not, chasing joy, enter conversation with Mr. Ransone? Is it a coincidence that I'm available to sing with the choir the night of Mr. Ransone's funeral when, until last week, I had expected to teach? I don't know the answers. What I do know is that I feel like a small bird held gently in a great, warm- and dry-palmed hand. I feel comforted and very loved, even as this song from my childhood plays over and over in my head: