“It’s another day in paradise. Just keeps getting better and better all the time.” The thin man wandered in the front door and gave me the answer, as I knew he would, to my stock question. “How’s it going today?” With his wild beard and disheveled mop of hair, he made quite a picture. If I didn’t know him, I might think he was some wild mountain man, more comfortable in a rustic cabin by the river than in town talking with the local store owners. Come to think of it, that actually was true of the man. His rough demeanor and rougher hands told the story of years of living close to the land. He was also, truth be told, quite up to the challenge of holding his own in any discussion on most any subject you might want to address.
He would meander over to the wall and take down a stray banjo, plucking the strings as he did so. “This one needs to be played awhile,” he would say, and then he would proceed to give the instrument what it needed. Unorthodox picking patterns and intricate melodies, combined with a vocal solo here and there, were the formula for these sessions. He was good, a talent groomed during many hours by the roaring fire in his river-side cabin when it was too cold to venture outside, or more than a few evenings camped out with his antique show friends in venues as far-flung as Round Top, Texas or up to Massachusetts and the New England states. The mountain man was also an artist and a wood carver, as well as a “picker”. You may take that last description as either of the two popular meanings of the word, both the buying kind and the banjo playing kind. He found many a bargain at an estate auction and resold it at the open air antique gatherings for enough profit to finance his laid-back lifestyle.
The phone rang tonight as the Lovely Lady and I relaxed after a full day and evening. “I just thought you would want to know about his funeral,” said the voice on the other end. Cancer, it seems, had been wreaking its horror in his body for some time. I didn’t know. He had always been slender; his kind of lifestyle keeps a man active and fit. He did seem to be more thin the last time he visited me, a couple of months ago. I didn’t inquire about it, since there are some things you don’t ask people. At least I don’t. I wish I would have now. I hung up the phone and shared the news with her, sitting next to me. We were silent for a moment or two. After she headed for bed and I was alone, it hit me. I’ll never see him again; never argue about religion, or art, or the value of a musical instrument with him again. He’ll never hand me back a banjo and tell me, “It’s got that snap! Someone will really love that one!” As the finality of his departure took hold in my thinking, the tears came. I do that a lot these days. I think it’s an old man thing. Maybe it’s more than that.
The mountain man and I were wary friends, at best. He had a world-view which was diametrically opposed to mine. God did not exist in his thinking, our moral values came from within, and truth was all relative. It wasn’t the best foundation for a friendship and our relationship was, like that foundation, a little shaky. Several times, to the dismay of the Lovely Lady, we would argue vehemently in the music store about some esoteric concept. More than one of those times, as I realized that customers were becoming uncomfortable with the exchange, I would suggest that it was time for him to go for now. He always knew he was welcome back, but we never became close friends, mostly due to the distance between our viewpoints. We’ll never have another of those discussions again. My tears are partly because I never found the words to convince him.
Many of you who will read this, know who I am. You know what I believe. I am convinced that the only way any of us will ever enter into Paradise is if we place our faith in the Savior who took our sins upon Himself way back there on the cross. Faith in Jesus Christ is the only path that leads to that joyous place. I weep tonight because, unless my friend made a change in his beliefs during his illness, I have no hope of seeing him again. I pray that I can do better with the next person who enters my door…and the next one after that.
I also weep because I shall miss the mountain man. I had more that I wanted to say to him. I have more banjos which need to be played for awhile.
“I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”
(“The Lord Of The Rings”~J.R.R. Tolkien~British Author~1892-1973)
“Make the best use of your time, because the days are evil.”