“Lite…what does God look like?” ” What does God look like, Brightness?”
“God looks like that wheat field. You plant the seed and you take care of it and then you harvest it. That’s what God looks like. Why do you ask?” “I just wondered,” I said.
“Brightness, what do you think it’s like when you die? I mean…like how do you know for sure that you are there and it’s not just that you finally have tickets to the Nebraska football game?” “I hate it when you ask me these questions at half-time,” I reply wrly. “I don’t really know for sure, but I think it must be sort of like a wheat field before harvest.” “I think you are right”, he replied.
I don’t really know when I became Brightness or he became Lite, but it happened that way. As long as I can remember it was just that way. The “Light of my Life” that I called Lite. Two-thirds of the whole, combined with my mother — we formed the trinity. Never separate from my brothers and sisters, but because I was what my Dad described as his mid-life crisis (…”some people got a red car, and I got you”…)…I arrived as the view at the top of the corporate ladder wasn’t all that he expected…and he always had to correct the teachers that he was not here for grandparent’s day — he was my father.
Three years ago today, his light was extinguished in the arms of my two beloved nieces who cared for their grandparents with a generous love that has been one of the greatest teachers in my life. And, when people would commend them, my niece would always respond, “no applause. that’s just what we do.” Those of you who follow my stories have heard some of his…and will undoubtedly again…but today, it’s not the story of the farm, or the LST, or the lessons of corporate life and death that have shaped my own leadership…it’s not the way he raised kids with a tough set of high expectations and even tougher self-doubt that always left him feeling less than the image of perfection he had of my wise and wonderful grandfather. Today it’s not this corporate genius transformed into “Big Gramp” who loved to compete with his great grandaughter to see if it would be Dora or the Cornhuskers who won the test of will. Today, it’s not the man who idolized my mother and felt that she sacrificed a great deal to marry him…and was grateful that she didn’t have to experience the anguish of being the one left by the harsh blow of death.
No…today, it’s not the idealized man that I miss — it’s the very human one. For, part of my inheritance from him are the rough edges of character we share…the wry humor, the cryptic remark, the sometimes too-short fuse, the roaring laughter over something that could be mildly offensive and the fierce lecture given while drying my hair as he did every morning in the mirror as he shaved. Today…it’s not the man who was twice fired for being a Catholic and refusing to give up his faith…it’s the man who struggled with faith and with whom I spent long hours as we pondered who God is and where God is and why some people live in war and some in peace. Today, I remember the man who taught me to cry and the one who showed me what a living amend looks like…the one who wondered as my sister and I drove him to the assisted living home if he had been a good father, husband and grandfather and if I thought my mother knew how much he loved her.
It is not the certitude, but the questions that made him my light. It was not the words, but the ability the two of us had to be silent together that created Brightness. It is his willingness to be real…that I miss today…that I give thanks for today — the Brightness of his Light.