I remember when 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, receiving part time nursing care for several months, and eventually hospice care. He was 85.
Oren was an old man when we moved into the neighborhood, but still able to drive. As he aged and weakened, I often shoveled his driveway early in the morning after an overnight snowfall. One year, near Christmas time, Oren and Helen invited us over for coffee and cake. We enjoyed meeting them, but never followed up.
From my living room window, I watched age and ill health take its toll on Oren. Gradually, he went from being able to drive to the store and walk his little dog Tuffy to the mailbox down the street, to taking short walks down to the corner with a walker, to riding down to the mail box in a little electric scooter. Eventually he was house-bound, then hospitalized for a short while. One morning, 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 home nursing care.
I became accustomed to seeing the care-givers’ cars parked in front of Oren and Helen’s house for the next few months. Then one morning 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.
Over the next couple of days, family came and went, and plans were put in place for the memorial service. On the day, Jean and I went to the United Methodist Church for the 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 out 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 who were near to and people who were far from God. His poems were passionate, descriptive, and challenging. His friends spoke of him as the most spiritual man they knew.
All those days and months and years, I had sat in my house across the cul-de-sac from a man who was a treasure of insight, wisdom, and creativity. The sense of missed opportunity hit me hard 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 as if 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 as if I had sat home watching reruns of America’s Funniest Home Videos when U2 was giving a free concert across town.
Shortly after the memorial service for Oren, 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 generation gap to the young and the young to reach out to the older folks.
Yet for nine years I had sat daily 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 was an opportunity lost and it’s a lesson learned!
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. May I find the hidden treasure in those up ahead and may I turn and share what I’ve learned with those who follow. Amen.