On Life and Love

(Remembering the Things Scott Taught Me)

Scott wasn’t a guy I would have called impressive. Not at first. He seemed more like someone you could easily lose sight of in a crowd. Five-foot-six —if that. Skinny. Dark hair. Deep-set, serious eyes. Quiet. His fiancee’ must have seen something in him, though, she wore his diamond with honor.

Whenever I saw them together her body language, her eyes, her smile, everything about her said “I’m with HIM!” He smiled the first time we met, shook my hand –sort of– repeated my name and gave me his, introduced me to Stephanie. That was about the size of it their first night at marriage preparation class; I didn’t give it much more thought. “A man of few words” perhaps.

As I got to know them better I learned that Scott was often quiet because he didn’t feel all that great. Cystic Fibrosis has a way of siphoning off any extra energy a guy might have – and it steals from the energy he NEEDS. CF usually wins. As we became better acquainted I finally got up the nerve to ask, and sure enough, Scott was living on borrowed time. He wasn’t supposed to have lived this long, yet here he was, planning toward and anticipating his wedding day. And his bride-to-be looked happy and confident. How could this be? I’m curious enough I had to know.

So when the time seemed right, I broached the subject. “Tell me if I’m prying too much, and don’t answer this if I am, but you’re getting married knowing full well Scott’s illness could bring a lot of heartache, a lot of trouble, a lot of LOTS of things – I’m not trying to talk you out of anything but I would love for you to let me peek in on your rationale -your thoughts- as your wedding day approaches. How are you two looking at life in light of Scott’s CF?”

Stephanie answered. Her eyes were gentle and her voice confident as she laced her fingers through his, reached to take his upper arm with her other hand, took a breath and said — “We’ve talked about it a lot. Nobody loves me like Scott can. I don’t know if we have eighteen weeks, eighteen months, or eighteen years. I just know I want to spend it with him.”

“Amazing,” I thought. “Thank You,” I said, “You guys have my respect and admiration.” I had to hand it to them.

And sure enough, they got married. Beautiful bride. Skinny groom. He looked pretty good. A little gaunt, maybe, but pretty good. They were right there where they always sat Sunday after Sunday as soon as they returned from their honeymoon trip. But a few months into their marriage he began to lose ground. I didn’t see him for a while because he was sticking close to home to avoid the risk of infection. Lung transplant patients have to do that, you know.

Then one day I caught his eye in the congregation as I led worship – he looked good! “She’s been cooking for you!”, I teased after church, and he laughed. His body was strong enough to enjoy it! He looked stronger, brighter, more energetic. We joked and talked together in the foyer a little while before they had to leave. Yep, she’d made the right call. Life brought challenges, lots of medical bills, lots of precautions for the sake of his health, but she was happy. They both were.

Then came the call before dawn one morning. “Phil, can you come over? Scott’s body rejected his lungs and he died last night.”

“Dear God, ” I managed. “I’m so sorry. … I’ll be right there.”

She was teary-eyed and grief stricken when she opened the door, but the look on her face told me she’d lived with unspoken anticipation of this moment for a long time. She hated it, but she knew it was inevitable. In the midst of it all she was trying to be thankful. Incredible woman!

We sat in the front room, her friends and family —their friends and family— and remembered him. As the stories flowed, I learned why she loved him so. Why eighteen weeks would have been enough for her. Why the years they had together would have to do, though she’d have gleefully accepted more.

As we talked and remembered, we even laughed. It seemed ironic, yet expected. We agreed it was like Scott would have wanted our conversation to be like this. Stephanie’s stories opened the drapes of my thinking and let the light of their love shine on some of what they shared; personal things only they had known. But she felt free to share some of them now; things that paid tribute and offered insights into who Scott really was:

She told how she was prone to complain about things now and then, and how Scott would counter with optimism. “Aww, it can’t be ALL bad,” he’d say. “Are you breathing?” He always started there. I guess when you’ve been at war with CF your whole life, breathing is at the top of your list. From there he’d lead her step by step back to where she chould be grateful and optimistic. It always worked. He never failed.

She told of his notes and little surprises she constantly found in everyday places, sometimes where she’d least expect him to have been. Some made her cry, some made her laugh out loud. All let her know he’d been thinking about her. I learned he never kept track of his notes – some went a long time before she discovered them. He didn’t mind; it was enough that he’d told her so. She’d find it eventually, he figured.

She told of one night when they’d gone out for dinner and to dance –they both liked country music— and on the way home she’d complained that the band hadn’t played one single slow song. “I like to dance,” she said, “but I need a slow dance ONCE in a while, EVERY girl does.” She said “All of a sudden we were off the highway and heading down a dark country road. ‘Oh-Geeze’ I thought, ‘NOW what have I started?’ He pulled off onto this little parking lot next to what was apparently a park when it was daylight, opened his door and stepped out of the truck. Scott always drove pickups. Came around to my side and opened my door, helped me down. Tall trucks. Then he climbed up and reached inside. In a second the music started to play. A slow dance. For just the two of us. Under the stars. I will never forget that dance.” She sat taller for a moment. “Would you like to hear it?”

We nodded. She went to their stereo, found the CD, put it in, found the song and pressed PLAY. We sat and listened, motionless except to wipe at our tears:

Looking back on the memory of
The dance we shared ‘neath the stars alone
For a moment all the world was right
How could i have known that you’d ever say goodbye

(chorus)
And now i’m glad i didn’t know
The way it all would end the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance
i could have missed the pain
But i’d of had to miss the dance

Holding you i held everything
For a moment wasn’t i a king
But if i’d only known how the king would fall
Hey who’s to say you know i might have changed it all

(chorus)
And now i’m glad i didn’t know
The way it all would end the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance i could have missed the pain
But i’d of had to miss the dance

Yes my life is better left to chance
I could have missed the pain but i’d of had to miss the dance.

(The Dance: From Garth Brooks / Album: Garth Brooks)

______

“He played that one?” a family member asked.

She nodded, her eyes wet with tears like the rest of us; maybe a little more than the rest of us.

“UN-real. It’s like he knew almost.”

She smiled through her tears. “Maybe he did. I’m wondering, could we play that at his service?”

“Absolutely.” I nodded, and I knew I had to tell the story behind its significance. It would honor the husband he was. Absolutely.

When I finally had to go I drove home in silence. So that’s what it was she loved about him so. He knew how to love. Selflessly. He’d have been a great dad; he certainly was a good husband!

I stayed in close contact with Stephanie and the family as the day of the funeral drew closer. She seemed strong – stronger than I expected, almost. But then, this painful part of the journey had always been standing in the shadows; perhaps she was just dealing with its having become reality.

But then came her phone call the day before the funeral. She was sobbing on the other end of the line. “What’s wrong, Stephanie? Can you tell me?”

“He did it again, Pastor Phil, I can’t believe this.”

I didn’t know what she could be talking about – “Go on” I ventured. What was I about to hear?!

The young widow on the phone pulled herself together enough to tell me. “I was paging through my closet just now, trying to decide what to wear tomorrow. And there was this…” (I waited until she was able to continue) “… and there was this note, pinned to the hanger: Wear this one! I love how you look in this one! I can’t believe this – I have no idea how long this note has been here, but Scott helped me chose the dress I’m going to wear tomorrow! God, I’m going to miss that man!”

“I know, I know… ” is all I could think to say. We would all miss him — but none as much as her.

When I walked into the church the next day I felt more like I was there to honor a softspoken champion than mourn the loss of one of CF’s victims. When I saw her, his wife – his widow, she looked beautiful. Sorrowful, but beautiful just the same. I went over and said “Hi”, gave her a comforting hug, careful not to smudge her makeup or mess up her hair at all. I had to notice her dress, it would have been rude not to. I smiled in sincere, pure appreciation. “He was right, Stephanie. What a champion he was. What a champion.”

_____________________

I still don’t know why Scott’s body rejected his new lungs.
I don’t know why he, a guy who knew how to live and love, didn’t get to play longer.
Maybe it only took him a few years to love his wife as much most do in a liftime, I don’t know.
I do know he was a big man in a small frame. A lot smaller than the truck he drove.
I know I learned a lot from him, albeit after the fact.
And I know I’m a better man thanks to his example.
I see now why his fiancee’ said eighteen weeks would suffice if that’s all they had.
Scott — knew how to love.

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