I can't remember exactly the first time he came into my office (it has to be about ten years ago), and I can't remember exactly when he became a member of our family, but it wasn't long between the two events. Gene and I quickly began a routine of talking every few days, and playing golf one afternoon each week when the weather and my schedule allow. When the weather is not good, we usually grab lunch. Honestly, this routine was mostly the result of his doing.
One day in my office he said he'd call and we'd play golf. He did and we did. I learned early on the Gene will do what he says he will do. I have learned a lot from Gene. He has taught me or reminded me of so many important lessons in life.
Here are just a few:
1. GIVE - Gene has shown me that life is so much better when you give. He gives to others, to me, and to the city. He truly enjoys giving, whether it is one of a hundred trees he (and his family) have planted in a park in Lubbock, or if it is a handshake, a hug, or putting lessons. Gene loves giving candy and gifts to my kids. Re-gifting is perfectly okay with Gene. He has taught me that every time we give a gift we are re-gifting. When he knows I am leaving town for a trip, he gives me a sleeve of golf balls to use if I get to play. If a few days go by without interaction, he calls just to see how Holly, the boys, and I are getting along. Gene reminds me that it is good to give.
2. RECEIVE - Gene believes life is a gift. He has shown me if we receive life as a gift we are so much more ready to receive and enjoy things from others as well. Gene loves to receive anything that is a token of love or friendship. When presented with a gift, a helping hand, an award, or a plate of Holly's chocolate chip cookies, he receives it gracefully and enthusiastically. The enjoyment is visible on his face and in his words and actions. When our friend Stan gives him a ride to Lion's club, he always thanks him and tells me. He consistently brags on the gift and the giver to others. Gene receives so well it makes giving more enjoyable.
3. DANCE - Not only does Gene still golf, he also still dances. He dances at the nightclubs. He dances in the ballroom. He dances anywhere someone is willing to take a dance lesson. Life is good for Gene because he dances at age 95. And, Gene dances at age 95 because LIFE, for him, is good.
4. KEEP GOING - About a year ago, Gene had an emergency surgical procedure to repair a small bowel obstruction. This was possibly related to his pancreatic cancer he had survived a few years earlier. He was in intensive care for a while and then in an extended care facility for a few weeks. Some of us questioned whether these would be Gene's final few days. They weren't. Gene's attitude, his determination, and his looking forward toward the next round of golf, the next dance, and the next morning walk were amazing. His love of life seemingly has a direct link to his motivation to keep going.
5. HOLD ON TO EACH OTHER - When I go somewhere with Gene, he holds onto my arm. Whether we are walking into the house, across a parking lot, or climbing out of a bunker we are frequently arm in arm or hand in hand. While this was at first, a little bit "different" for me, I have grown to expect it and enjoy it. It is not that Gene can't make it on his own. Remember, he dances. He holds on to someone else because life is better this way, a little more secure, a little more manageable, and much more enjoyable. This is as true figuratively in life as it is literally. It is true when walking with Gene, or Holly, or with my boys, and it is true when "walking" with the folks around me everyday. It is true when strolling the smooth places of life, and it is certainly true when climbing out of life's "bunkers". Gene reminds me to hold on to those around me.
6. BE FAITHFUL - As I mentioned at the beginning, if Gene says he will do something, he does it. In this regard he is faithful. But I have grown to understand this comes from something else deep inside him. He is faithful in the sense that he is "full of faith". In 95 years, he has seen more than he can describe, both good and bad, joy and heartache, love and loss. In spite of this or because of this, he lives a life of strong and beautiful dependence. I will never forget the first time we sat down to lunch in the clubhouse at the golf course. He reached both hands across the table and grasped mine (again holding on to each other). His 95 year old hands are an amazing combination of strength and softness. He said these words I have now heard so many times I have them memorized (thankfully), "Our Heavenly Father, we pause to give you thanks, for the MANY, MANY blessings you have provided to the families represented here today. Be with my wife (in heaven), and be with my son and daughter. And now, be with me in ALL that I do and ALL that I say. In Jesus name, Amen."
Hearing Gene say these words as he holds my hands is powerful. I can't help but think that something "happens" when he does this. It makes me wonder if there is another reason to hold on to each other. It feels almost like a kind of faith transfusion. I hope it takes.