This morning, I write this article while thinking about today, Memorial Day 2019.
This is a traditional holiday and is most often seen as the beginning of the summer vacation. School is (usually) out by now. New graduates are facing their first summer “free”.
Today the barbecue grills will be hopping and hot dogs and hamburgers galore will be consumed. In many cases, the van is being packed up and the swimming trunks, hiking boots and camping gear are being pulled out of storage and prepped for a great time of summer fun and enjoyment.
In some rare cases, this holiday is also seen as the opportunity to catch up on some home repairs and other maintenance issues which don’t get the proper attention until days like today.
Our local newspaper today ran the headline – “Fulfilling a Promise” – and the main story was about a man who oversees the second largest national cemetery in the nation, located just a few miles from our home here in Florida. He has personally vowed to make a very special occasion out of every memorial service to the military veterans who are buried there.
He demonstrates the utmost of respect for the men and women who have “paid the ultimate sacrifice”, giving their very lives in the preservation and protection of our freedoms, those liberties which we often so easily take for granted.
In one of the largest demonstrations of patriotism and gratitude in the nation, nearly 10,000 people will gather this morning to commemorate and honor the sacrifices of so many. These are heroes who deserve our utmost respect and praise, and it is so very appropriate to remember them in their service to our country.
In recent years, one of the devotional practices I have employed on holidays such as this is to remember friends who have passed away in the past year or so. Living in a “senior” community, one of the givens of life is that friends and neighbors will indeed be crossing that threshold eventually.
But then, losing friends is a fact that also happens in places like Hillsboro and Wilmington, Ohio, as well, doesn’t it?
One of the friends I have come to know and love who has gone on to eternity is a fellow named Mort.
When we moved to Florida, Mort was one of the neighbors who reached out to me and encouraged us in our endeavors here. An Irishman from New England (everybody here is known for being from somewhere else!), an accountant by profession, he and his wife Jean had lived here in our neighborhood for the longest of any of our neighbors – 16 years!
He was a fine example to me of someone who had learned to downsize and enjoy it!
I first met Mort when he was 82 years of age. I met him one day when I was on my regular walk around our circle and through our neighborhood.
Mort was sitting on his patio in front of his home, tending to his flowers and plants. He invited me to come and sit for a spell. I did and he introduced me to his wife and then showed me his coy pond in his back yard. He loved tending to those fish.
From that initial conversation, I learned that Mort also loved to play golf, and we made arrangements to play together soon.
It did not take long to learn that Mort also had a wonderful sense of humor. One of his favorite expressions, I soon discovered, was evident no matter how close I would get to the hole on the golf course. If my putt did not go in, and missed the cup even by an inch,
Mort would say, with a wry Irish grin, “Mark it and step back!” (Most people, other than the professional golfers among us, would say, “That’s a gimme!”).
Although I did not know it at the time, Mort was dying from prostate cancer. Upon diagnosis, his doctors had given him just short of four years to live.
He went through all the treatments possible before ultimately facing the chemotherapy treatments, and still could not be rid of the disease.
One day he called me and asked if I could come to see him soon. I dropped what I was doing and went to see Mort right then and there.
Mort had called me to tell me that the doctors had given him no more than six months yet to live and he wanted to make sure things were right between himself and God. He tearfully prayed right then and there to trust Christ and to affirm his belief in Him as “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). From that day on, Mort was a changed man.
His wife will tell you that he was a kinder, gentler Mort. He reached out to his kids in a way that he had not done in years. And they responded well to his attempts.
Oh, he still insisted that we all “mark it and step back!” But he always had a twinkle in his eye when he said it. And from that day on, every week, usually in his living room,
Mort and I would sit down and chat – about life, about golf, about his beloved New England Patriots, and about eternal life.
And at the end of every chat, Mort would ask a question of me: “Chuck, would you pray now before you go?”
And we would pray – first me, then Mort. A truly special friend.
Memorial Day is a day to honor the memory of heroes who died to assure us all of our freedom. But it is also a time to remember heroes of the friendship variety.
Mort is one of my heroes. I know I’ll see him again someday, simply because of the freedom he has experienced in his soul in Christ.
Thank you, Mort, for fond memories!
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for the News Journal and a former pastor in the area. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.