The ticket cost me $130. The only one who got off on the ticket was the solider wearing his BDU.I appreciate the notes and the phone calls. Very sweet of all of you. I was fine. Just fine. Made it through the service and everything just fine. Which is to say I wasn’t doing the ugly cry or anything like that. Pam had given me strict instructions to make the eulogy happy. Eddie had made me promise no tears. So I did it. I kept it happy and put on that brave face that my own mother was so good at. I even thought of how much like my mother I had become. Then I went by Shaddens Tire Center on the way out of town yesterday. Gordon took me there the first time last spring to get my oil changed. He trusted Shaddens, so I did. I stopped by yesterday to get the oil changed again and asked them to find out why the oil was leaking. So they did. It was the plug in the oil pan, stripped out. They replaced it and went about setting me on my way. I was paying the bill when the fellow said to me, “Sure sorry about Gordon.” That’s all he said. “Sure sorry about Gordon.” Now mind you I hadn’t said a word about Gordon to those folks. I didn’t think they’d remember that he’d brought me in their last spring. I had just sat reading a book, waiting for my car. “Sure sorry about Gordon.” That’s all it took and I could hardly make my way back to the car. I was dehydrated by the time I got to Knoxville.
I used to tell Gordon, and many others, not to feel bad about crying over Vietnam.
“If war isn’t worth crying over, what is?”
Gordon loved that saying. He understood it better than most. He wouldn’t have expected me to get through this without tears. I have always had a good grasp on grief, having learned it at an early age. But I finally understand the kind of grief that caused Jesus to weep over Lazareth. He wept even though he knew Lazareth had a resurrection coming.
Jesus understood that if the death of a friend isn’t worth weeping over, what is?
I received two very unusual emails today. Unusual in that they both were written by folks who were reading my other book — After the Flag has been Folded. It’s probably been eight months or longer since I received such emails from people reading that book. The fan mail, if that’s what you call it, has mostly been about WYJN, which is what a writer expects when a new book is released. But these notes both arrived today. One was from a reader in Missouri and the other from a reader in Argentina. Seriously. I don’t know a soul in Argentina but the fellow was a graduate of Tulane and came across my writing. Here’s my favorite part of his note:
I am a father of three kids, one of almost the same age you had when your father died. I could feel that your father died loving you, your mother and your brother and sister. I saw his face in the picture with the montagnard children. That face resembles honesty, courage, love and determination, all together. Only from the picture one could say that your father was a great man. And you did a great job, because through your writings uncountable people could get to know him and admire his courage. I am one of them.
Isn’t that a lovely note? I figure Gordon must have put him up to it. He was the president and sole member of my fan club. (He did a lousy job as treasurer.)
Speaking of clubs, I spoke to a book club this morning in Fayetteville. They were a great group and full of great questions. But I thought it interesting that at least half of the club prefaced their comments with, “I really enjoyed your book although I didn’t agree with parts of it.”
Where does this notion that a reader should agree with the author come from? Does that mean we should only read that stuff that we can say Amen too? Should we never consider the other person’s perspective? Should we never stop to consider that maybe none of us are right? That the best we can hope for is the shared experience of trying? And that maybe what we ought to be looking at is the common struggle of all humanity and quit blaming each other for that struggle, whatever it is?
I don’t want to be surrounded by a bunch of people who agree with everything I say. I wouldn’t trust them. Gordon was the first to read the draft chapters of WYJN. He was adamant that my perspective on homosexuality was all wrong. He went back to his study bibles — he had shelves of them — and pulled out scripture after scripture and called me repeatedly day after day after day, arguing his point. I’d argue mine right back. We did not agree on the subject. He had never befriended a homosexual and told me outright that he didn’t want to be around anyone like that. I told him that wasn’t very Christlike and around and around we went. In an honest, articulate debate. We were never demeaning of one another.
He even went so far to write out his argument and send it to me on yellow legal pad. I called him when I got it and we discussed the matter for the 18th round. Then he said, “Well, I’ll give you this, you’ve really made me think about it.”
Exactly the point.
From then on out, he teased me about it every chance he got, in that good-natured way of his. Thinking is a thing to be valued. Good friends should sharpen us, not necessarily agree with us. Good books should too.