Recently Jean and I attended the memorial service for Oren Aldritch, our neighbor across the cul-de-sac. He had been ill at home for quite a while and receiving hospice care for several months. He was 85.
Oren was old when we moved into the neighborhood nine years ago, but still able to drive and to take his dog for a walk each day, down to the post boxes on the next street. As he weakened, I would go over and shovel his driveway the morning after it snowed and once, near Christmas time, Oren and Helen invited us over for coffee and cake along with some of the other older neighbors. We enjoyed meeting them, but never followed up.
I watched the progression of Oren’s aging and weakening. I watched as his old dog Cody had to be put down, then as they got Tuffy, their miniature poodle, whose owner had died. Gradually, Oren went from being able to drive and walk the dog, to taking short walks down to the corner with a walker, to riding down to the mail box in a little electric scooter, to being house-bound, then hospitalized, then back home under hospice care. Once Helen came to the door and asked me to come over and help Oren. He had fallen in the back yard and she couldn’t get him to his feet. I helped him up and to his bed. It wasn’t long after that they began hospice care.
I became accustomed to seeing the hospice care-givers’ cars parked in front of Oren and Helen’s house. Then one morning a couple of weeks ago, I saw the van from the funeral home back into the driveway at 6:30 AM and soon they took Oren’s body away. We spoke to Helen and told her how sorry we were for her loss. She said his passing was peaceful and she had no regrets over the final season of Oren’s life.
Family came and went, plans were put in place for the memorial service, and yesterday we went to the Bend United Methodist Church for the service. We sure saw a lot of old people at the memorial service!
As the service progressed and we sang old hymns, as old friends told stories of Oren’s life and interests, and as I read the obituary and listened to the eulogy I began to feel such a sense of loss, of missed opportunity.
I found that Oren was an amazing man, deeply spiritual, strong in faith, and passionate about discovery and learning!
Oren had written books of poetry that revealed his love for God, for God’s creation, for his family, and for people near to and far from God. His poems were passionate, descriptive, and challenging. His friends spoke of him as the most spiritual man they knew.
Here I had sat in my house across the cul-de-sac from a treasure of insight, wisdom, and creativity. The sense of missed opportunity hit me hard as soon as I began to learn about Oren and his life. The sense of missed opportunity continued to grow as I listened to one person after another speak of Oren’s life.
Here’s how I felt: I felt like I had come into town and grabbed a quick burger at McDonald’s and then later discovered that there was a Black Angus Steak House two streets over. I felt like I had sat home watching reruns of America’s Funniest Home Videos when Johnny Cash was giving a free concert across town.
I was so aware of my own violation of the personal values that I have begun to speak often and emphatically about. Just this past weekend I spoke to hundreds of people in the weekend services at Westside church about realizing the treasure of wisdom and insight that God has placed in the lives of the older people among us. I challenged the old to reach across the gap to the young and the young to reach out to the older folks.
For nine years I had sat in my living room, looking across the cul-de-sac at the living room windows of Oren and Helen’s house, never knowing the treasure in the life and heart of the man who was spending his final years just over there on the other side of the street. I could have learned so much from him! I could have shared so much with him! It’s an opportunity lost and it’s a lesson learned!
What a lesson for me! In this case, learned too late. Maybe I can apply the lesson learned to my life going forward from here.
Father, this lesson hits me hard and digs deep. May I not merely shake it off and move along in the busyness of my life. May I not miss the next opportunity, should there be one. Amen.