Thursday, April 12, 2007

The measure of a man

Well, the Messiah Sing at West Valley Presbyterian didn't happen for me, because I suddenly had more urgent business to attend to. A week and a half ago, I got on a last-minute flight to Canada to see my ailing uncle. Only four weeks ago, he seemed in good health, joking, laughing, and playing tennis and golf with his buddies. Then he unexpectedly suffered a series of heart attacks and strokes. Sadly, by the time I arrived, he had already been unconscious for several days, and he died the following day.

I have fond memories of my uncle and much affection for him, but it was only when his family and friends converged to pay him tribute one last time that I finally got a glimpse of his true measure. I was particularly moved by the following two stories that were told at the funeral service, and I wish to remember them as examples by which to lead my own life.

In one story, an elderly woman described how last year she had been waiting at a bus stop on a cold and windy winter day. The bus was more than 45 minutes late. The woman's hands and face were freezing, she felt miserable, and she was too tired to walk home. She saw a car pass by, and a few minutes later, the same car came around again and pulled up next to her. It turned out to be my uncle and aunt, who offered her a ride home, though they were strangers at the time. When she arrived home, she thanked them and invited them into her home, but they had another engagement and could not come in. The woman expressed deep regret that she did not give them a proper thank-you while my uncle was still living, but she told us that she would never forget that one small act of kindness.

The second story was related by a woman who had lived in the same apartment building as my aunt and uncle years ago years ago in Montreal. At the time, they were all relatively recent immigrants from the Philippines. She laughingly told us that when she met my uncle, her first impression of him was that he looked like a shady character, with his big mustache and belt. That winter, there was a blizzard severe enough that people were sent home from schools and offices. The woman and her husband did not have a car, but she managed to get a ride from her office to the day care center where her young son was. She then called my uncle to ask if he could drive to the day care center to pick them up, and although they didn't know each other well at the time, he agreed to come get them. It took him much longer than expected to pick them up, and when he arrived, she found out why. My uncle's car wouldn't start, so he had walked a mile and a half through the blizzard to the day care center to come get them. He then walked them home, against the wind, while carrying her son. Later on, my uncle and aunt, having two daughters but no sons of their own, took the woman's son under their wing. They became like second parents to him, and with the attention and love they gave him, this timid boy blossomed into a self-confident young person.

Having heard these stories, I wish I had known my uncle better. He was a founder and officer of various civic organizations in his community, and led or participated in a number of charitable initiatives, both in Canada and the Philippines. He also recently fulfilled his dream of building a house on the island where he grew up, although he did not get to invite his entire extended family to vacation there, as he had wanted. Before last week, I did not know any of these things about my uncle. Perhaps he would have had some wisdom to share with me about where to go next on my life path.

On a side note, while I was in Canada, I myself was the beneficiary of an act of kindness from a stranger. I met a man who introduced himself as a childhood friend not only of my uncle, but also of my late father. He said he had some old photos of my dad from their scouting days. The next time I saw this man, he showed me the photos of my dad and his scout troop in 1959, when he was 15 years old. Then he gave them to me, saying that the photos had meant a lot to him, but he knew that they would mean even more to me. It was a gift that moved me almost to tears.


Anonymous said...

Good stories.
Hope you are doing good.

-K (The one responsible for your departure)

6Angstroms said...

Be careful not to take on the "Rach Three."

Blue Yonder said...

Ha ha, 6angstroms. I am on Schaum Book D. Rach 3 is not happening anytime soon. :-)