October 24, 2017

Richard

The Greatest Generation, John Weiss

The Greatest Generation, John Weiss

This is Middle America. This is the generation of “older people” that I grew up respecting, the people who ran or worked for local businesses, tended to their families, and were involved in their communities. This is the group of people who essentially built the world as I have known it. They fought in World War II, came home and went to school or work, marrying the sweethearts they met before or after going overseas. This is the Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner, Crosby and Hope, Bogie and Bacall generation.

This is Richard.

I officiated Richard’s funeral this week, and it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. Sure, there were tears, but many of them were tears of gratitude. Richard had lived 92 good years, was married over 65 years, lived a simple, frugal life with five kids and a number of pets in a proud, well-kept neighborhood community in the city. A neighbor told me he used to have a good walk every morning and evening to and from the bus that took him to work downtown.

Richard was a codebreaker in Italy during World War II. He was proud of his military service and he maintained an interest in the era by building model WWII model airplanes and reading about it. A few years ago he had the privilege of going on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. and seeing the WWII Memorial honoring guys like him.

His wife died a few years ago and it was the one sadness in his life as far as I could determine. Oh yes, he did have one regret from earlier days. While serving in Italy, he came into possession of a beautiful dog to which he gave an Italian name. When it came time to return stateside, he was not allowed to bring the dog with him. The kids told me he talked about that dog for the rest of his life.

Richard loved animals. I’ve always considered that to be a telling feature of a person. If someone loves animals and treats them with kindness and loving care, it usually indicates goodness of character. His last pet was the most affectionate cat I have ever been around. When we met as a hospice team after Richard’s death, we talked a long time about what would happen to the cat; they were that close. Solution: one of the daughters will take her to her home, a continual reminder of her dad’s gentle and kind spirit.

Richard had an active mind right up to the end. Whenever I visited, he was working through a book, or several of them. When he could no longer read well enough, he listened to books on tape, and we would discuss what he was reading. He remained curious and interested in learning until his final days. I always found conversations with Richard stimulating, and I would try to get him to talk about his days in World War II. The one television show he would not miss was Jeopardy.

There came a time when Richard began seeing visions of people standing by his bed and having dreams of past events. We discussed those and he shared with me that he was more curious about them than frightened or concerned. Talking with the family after he died, it became clear to me that his mind was actively reviewing his life and processing his memories.

Here is the text I used for the message I gave at Richard’s service, from Genesis 25:

This is the length of Abraham’s life, one hundred seventy-five years. Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field…that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with his wife Sarah. After the death of Abraham God blessed his son Isaac.

Of all the hospice patients I’ve had the privilege of meeting, this passage perhaps fits Richard better than any of the others. He died in a good old age, an old man and “full of years” – a profound description that speaks not only of his life’s length but also of its quality.

Richard died a man who had lived a good, full life.

Now he lies next to his “Sarah,” gathered to his people.

And I love the way this text ends: “After the death of Abraham God blessed his son Isaac.”

When we lose good people like Richard from past generations we may feel unequipped to take their place. However, God is with us as he was with our fathers – God is our dwelling place in all generations – and his blessing carries on. It is as available to us as it was to Richard, and it may well be that someday a historian will look back and say, “After the death of Richard, God blessed his family and the people of their generation.”

Richard is not a hero in any spectacular, public sense. But to me, Richard represents the best of Middle America, the people who have been my common grace heroes, the “greatest generation” if you will.

These are the righteous, of whom the wisdom psalm says:

The meek shall inherit the land,
and delight themselves in abundant prosperity….
The LORD knows the days of the blameless,
and their heritage will abide forever.
(Ps. 37:11, 18)

Comments

  1. A good way to cleanse our spirits after the last few posts.

  2. And God blessed your life with the gift of Richard Chaplain Mike. This story brought memories of my father, passed in 2010, a Hoosier, a career Marine, married to one woman, and a good (and strict!) father. Gone too early at 77. He is missed, and we are not the same family without him. But we do have Mom! And now she lives with my wife and me in Georgia, the Indiana winters becoming too much for her of late. God is good, and we see His blessings in our lives through our ancestors.

  3. But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them.
    In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be an affliction,
    And their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace.
    For though in the sight of men they were punished,their hope is full of immortality.
    Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good,because God tested them and found them worthy of himself;
    Like gold in the furnace he tried them,
    and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them.
    In the time of their visitation they will shine forth,
    and will run like sparks through the stubble.

    Wisdom 3:1-7

  4. A few years ago, my church experienced the passing of a long-time member, named Bill, who had been attending the church for around 65 years with his wife, to whom he had been married for just as long. He had also served in WWII, and even served on one of the naval vessels that took part in D-Day. At his funeral, we heard a story about how he had really wanted to storm the beach with the soldiers, but since he couldn’t, he instead went on deck and shot a flair gun at the Germans, for which he got in a great deal of trouble (since the flair would make them a target).
    Bill was an amazing guy. Every Sunday at church, he would stand at the doors of the building and greet everyone with a handshake and a piece of hard candy, mints or butterscotch, etc. The kids (including myself, when I was younger) would call him the Candy Man. He’s a hero, no doubt about it. I hope I can fill his shoes.

  5. Sleep, sleep tonight
    And may your dreams be realised
    If the thunder cloud passes rain
    So let it rain, rain down on he
    So let it be
    So let it be
    Sleep, sleep tonight
    And may your dreams be realised
    If the thunder cloud passes rain
    So let it rain, let it rain
    Rain down on he

  6. This is so that powerful and comforting at the same time.
    The one thing that stirs me in my heart to to learn to “love God and my neighbor” whether my family, my church family or others. As God has graciously allowed me to celebrate my upcoming 74 years or not, I pray that God, my family, integrity and humility find a place within my heart, just as you shared this wonderful story. We all have stories just as we God’s stories in our Bibles. His indescribable love is hopefully what we still seek in our journeys in life. Without distractions that too often rear up in my life. I believe Paul said that our only hope is Jesus Christ when we are doing or not doing in my humanity. Thanks

  7. There is no question but that this “Greatest Generation” hit a high point in modern history. They survived the Great Depression and won World War II and ushered in what was probably the greatest period of prosperity and hopefulness in modern history. At least in the USA. The rest of the world was in ruins and supporting what has arguably been the greatest Empire in all of our recorded history of successive Empires within the World System. Hats off!

    I can personally remember the high point of this story, VJ Day, the official end of World War Two, a war that was the direct result of the intervention of this country in World War One, both interventions based on bamboozlement at high levels. It didn’t take long after Hiroshima for the so called Cold War to rise up, Korea, the Arms Race, Viet Nam, on and on right up until today’s mess.

    The seeds of all the turmoil and dissension of the 60’s were already planted on that day in 1945 when I stood at the side of the road with my little American flag, six years old, waving at all the passing cars wildly honking in celebration. The 60’s turned into the 70’s when the beginnings of the crumbling of the prosperous working and middle classes became apparent if you were watching closely, not that I understood things back then as well as I do now.

    It’s been a downhill ride ever since in the proverbial handbasket. The world today is teetering more than ever if you read between the lines of the evening news. I expect it to collapse in my lifetime, quite possibly getting a good start in this coming year. The signs are there, anything can happen.

    People like Richard were equipped to win World War Two and to establish the best possible means of continuing that victory in peace and prosperity, if you were white and middle class like Richard, maybe not so much if you were African-American, Indian, or Mexican, or poor, or even worse. Richard won the war while Japanese-American citizens were confined to concentration camps, their property confiscated, just like in Nazi Germany.

    There aren’t very many Richards left. I’ve gone to the funeral of one in the past year, know another whose plans to be buried are up in the air as the church he attended since childhood implodes. Norman Rockwell is as important for recording ordinary life at its best in a high point of history, as those painters back in the Middle Ages recording folks going about daily life. We might mimic the externals of these nostalgic years, but aside from isolated pockets, it ain’t happening now.

    Richard shows us what we are capable of, but young people now have an entirely different world to deal with, and the veneer is chipping and warping and wearing thin. Looking back, it changed irretrievably with the Kennedy assassination and here we are. What we need now are Richards who can take us thru what’s coming up around the bend. It’s going to take more than what Richard knew and was able to maintain in the face of dissolution thruout his life. I expect there will be those who step up to the plate, and some of them will show goodness of heart. I’m counting on it. It’s not looking all that great right now, but I am filled with hope to arise out of the rubble. My utmost respect and regards for Richard and his life on this planet. He helped get us here. Now it’s up to us. Lord help us all!

  8. Christiane says:

    my father ‘lived simply’ with one good suit for Church and plain work clothes . . . he lived the ‘same bedroom slippers for twenty years’ kind of ‘simple’, paying cash for his purchases, working three jobs, no credit cards, organic garden, and a reserved dignity that I wish some of our presidential candidates could muster . . . that was my Pop of blessed memory

    when didn’t know he was faithfully putting money away in the bank until the time came for us to go to university and for my brother to go to med school . . . the money was there

    that was some generation and they are mostly gone now, but what a legacy they have left us . . . what my father left us was an example of quiet integrity and perseverance, working as the son of immigrants and without the benefit of higher education . . . his gift to us was his own energy poured out in difficult, un-ending work so that we could have a ‘better’ life . . . for this, in our family, his name is reverenced . . . he was the best person I ever knew and he was my own father