Has it really been four years since Jon died? It feels—not like yesterday—but like half an hour ago. There he is pulling Cessna six niner eight zero x-ray out of the West Point hangar, sitting at the soundboard with headphones on, tossing haybales up to the barn loft, riding the John Deere, playing fetch with his Labs, studying I Peter, singing at the piano. . . I can still see his eyes crinkle when he laughs, feel his rib-cracking, flannel-shirted bear hug, hear his interminable work-related phone conversations.
Some memories are so vivid, that when they emerge, I melt right back into them. One of my favorites is of Jon playing dominoes with his grandfather.
They appeared uncannily alike to me then—they laughed alike; they had the same stocky build; both had bright blue eyes. Old Jon and young Jon sitting across from each other, a good natured challenge between them. Young Jon said, “I’m gonna whip you this time.” Old Jon said, “Go right ahead and try. It’ll do you good to lose.” I remember watching them closely because I’d never played the game, but I kept getting distracted. They laughed so much I’d lose track of points.
“Gimme a dime,” Jon would call out
” I’ll take fifteen,” Cody would reply.
On it went, the domino trail getting longer and crookeder until one of them (usually Cody) sang, “I’m out!”, and worked his way into a paroxysm of belly laughter.
Jon would feign disgust and shuffle the dominoes for another round. Fascinating to watch- it was as if the patio table between the men was a time-line connecting them. I assumed I was seeing what Jon would be like in his nineties. That was a slight miscalculation on my part. . .
Although Jon didn’t quite make it to 90, he’d learned a lot in his 58+ years. So shortly before he left us, someone thought to ask him about the most important lessons he’d learned in his life. His answer was staggeringly simple, but so profound he repeated it: “I only know Jesus. I only know Jesus.” With that remark, I heard dominoes click, one after another as each family member comprehended its significance.
Some might argue that one memory is happy and the other is sad, but that is not true. In the first, Cody is nearing the end of his life, and in the second, Jon is at the end of his, so grief stands, as it always does, in the background of both. Yet grief doesn’t have the last word, for something bigger connects the memories, something that makes one an example of love, and the other an explanation for it.
Jon understood what that something was.
“ Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.” 1 John 4:7-9