Ronnie Agnew, a former executive editor of The Clarion-Ledger, is the executive director of Mississippi Public Broadcasting. E-mail him at Ronnie.Agnew@mpbonline.org
They are starting to leave him now, tearing away at his emotions even as he fights to conceal any glimmer of sadness.
First a relative, followed by another. Then a friend. Then a former co-worker. At 84, he has lost count of the people no longer here who once formed the circle of his life. In this holiday season, death has not stopped to spare his friends, not for one moment. It has continued its relentless march, flexing its muscle of inevitability.
He has lived longer than many of them, save the cousin who nearly made 90, and the one only a year or two older than he. When the calendar heralds the New Year, he, too, moves with it. Jan. 23, 1928 is his year, taking him to 85. He views it with conflicting emotions — weariness and anticipation.
Conversations occasionally evolve into genealogical discussions about the people who have gone on, but focus mostly on the people he fiercely clings to, even as the link to the past weakens. With remarkable clarity, he recalls the younger days. He grew up in a house filled with kids, noise and constant visits from relatives – much like the home he would later create.
My father holds back sadness because he is, in fact, not sad. He has accepted the facts before him – that people get old and often pass on. That does not make him any less joyful that he is here and able to embrace life in ways some of his friends and relatives never could. Sickness dictated their final years. It has eluded him, giving him the freedom to do most anything he wants. If more of us could be like him.
While he may be in need of some things, he wants for nothing. He would rather spend time talking about the things that continue to bring him joy. The hunting trips that lasted into the night, with dogs howling when they find their prey. The hog killings on a chilly winter day, with the men-folk gathered around a big steaming black pot, while crackling bubbles and pops. The gardens he raised that fed an entire neighborhood. The Major League baseball heroes, with names like Robinson, Mantle, Bera and Gehrig, that left him speechless at their skill.
With little warning, he fast forwards to the now, to the kids he raised to adulthood who have produced grandchildren to cement his legacy. The church he visits weekly that occasionally calls on him to offer a prayer and to sing his favorite gospel song, “The Lord Will Make a Way Somehow.”
While many scramble to find the perfect gift this holiday season, which will soon be forgotten, my daddy has long since realized the unimportance of such things. He has never fallen victim to the trappings of stuff. How much better off would we be if we lived life completely satisfied with what we have? My daddy long ago reached that place. He would never understand the frenzy that the holiday season has become. He would find it inexplicable that people would trample on each other just to get their hands on a pre-paid cell phone. He neither owns nor wants one.
Each time I visit him during the holidays, I receive a lesson in perspective. He is happy and content with the life he has. There are no highs and lows during the holidays. One month is as good as the next. He misses his late family and friends terribly. But he has learned to enjoy the gift of today. Tomorrow will have to wait.
A Holiday Season of Contentment
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