Ask anyone about my father-in-law Richard Gardner and they will tell you that he was a quiet man, a listener who married a talker. He had simple tastes and led an uncomplicated life.
On Saturday we gathered in beautiful rural Georgia to celebrate his life.
My father-in-law died in November, the day after our grand son was born. My husband received the news in Kurdistan. He was alone with no family to sit with him through those initial numb stages of grief and loss. Our Kurdish friends stepped in, sitting with him through the evening hours and inviting him to meals for the next few days.
Richard Gardner was a quiet man and a good man. He served in the US Airforce until retirement, including tours in Vietnam, Germany, and many parts of the United States. He worked hard, sometimes working not only his airforce job, but also others in order to provide for a family of five growing boys.
My father-in-law made sacrifices and so did his wife and family. His family particularly felt the absence of a father during his military tour in Vietnam. They moved across the country and the world, uprooting a family of seven many times over. Their orders came from a military machine and when they said go, you packed up and you went, no matter if it was the middle of the school year.
In more recent years he had developed Alzheimer’s and his memories of the past were more current than his memories of the present. The stories of long ago would surface as treasures found under the sea of a long life. One particular story was when he arrived back from his service in Vietnam to the west coast. Vietnam was not a popular war and the ones who lost in the game were soldiers who lost much only to return as unsupported veterans. The story my father-in-law told was of arriving late to the commercial flight that would transport him back to Florida, where his wife and four young sons anxiously waited for him. He ran to catch the flight and the flight staff opened the door for him. As he walked in, out of breath and tired, every person on the plane stood up and clapped for him thanking him for his service. He told the story with eyes full of tears.
This story came from a man who was a listener. The rest of the family are story tellers, but Richard? He was a listener. This made the story that much more poignant and beautiful.
In a world of platforms and influencers we desperately need to recognize the value of a quiet and faithful life. As a story teller myself, I am slowly learning that some stories can only come in the quiet, that honoring stories means you have to wait for some of them to be told.
In a world that talks far too much, we need the quiet listeners. We need to learn and grow from them, to wait quietly for the stories to come.
There will be no more stories from this man. Those are saved for eternity when we will be caught up in that great story of God that feels more precious every day.
On Saturday we said final goodbyes to this quiet man, a man who was ready to die. At his memorial service my husband quoted these words from the Russian novel Laurus:
“Your body has become unsuitable, prepare to leave it; know that this shell is imperfect.”
Richard’s body had indeed become unsuitable. My husband went on to talk about the thin veil that separates life from death. One minute we are breathing, the next we are gone.
Richard Gardner is gone. We are still here. May we storytellers and talkers learn from the quiet men and women around us, and in doing so may we be changed.