On a lovely spring day in April 1967, my dad and mom were about to get in a taxi to go to the airport. Later that day they would fly to Denver where my father was going to have heart surgery. The procedure was fairly new at that time, a coronary bypass. As usual, they were optimistic that everything would go well and he would soon be home again. I do not remember feeling worried; in fact I had some girlfriends at the house that day. I think we were practicing a dance routine for an upcoming musical.
When they yelled “we’re leaving” down the stairs, I raced up to say goodbye and as I waved to them I shouted, “I love you Daddy!” Those were the last words he ever heard me say to him because Dad never did come home. He died on Tuesday April 14th at about 3:30 in the afternoon from complications following surgery. Dad was 45. I was 16.
It’s always been a small comfort to me to know that is how we last said farewell. Without a doubt it is for that very reason that I have always been a little weird about the last things I say to someone as they leave, as we say goodbye or before we hang up the phone. I don’t want ever want to regret my parting words.
Every morning I start my day with a short time of devotion, some scripture, and prayer. Next, I check in with some dear ones on Facebook where I can always find an uplifting, inspiring or thought provoking quote from them. It is how we say good morning to one another across town, across the country or across the planet. Then I scan through my emails where I pick out one or two of the subscriptions I have chosen to receive and find some more positive thoughts to feed on before I head into the world.
Last week I found something that made a huge impact on me and it came from a most unexpected site; one about the use of language in advertising. It contained some thoughts from a TED Talk by a man named Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic. Google Ben and his name will pop up instantly along with many links. He is on a crusade to win people over to the love of classical music. The talk was funny and he is a delightful presenter but the last five minutes resonated with me so deeply that I could not get it out of my head.
Zander has boundless enthusiasm and a refreshingly joyful approach to life. He teaches that the words we choose have enormous power to inspire others and awaken the possibilities in them. He determines how well he is doing that by looking for what he calls “shining eyes”. His very measure of success is not power or wealth but how many eyes he sees shining around him. He goes on to say when he does not see shining eyes; he must ask himself what kind of person he is being to others.
He tells a story about a woman who as a child was on a train to Auschwitz with her little brother. She was 15 and he was 8. Their parents were lost. She noticed he had no shoes and scolded him, asking how he could be so stupid to lose his shoes. Tragically, her little brother did not survive the camp and she never saw him again. When at last she did survive the Holocaust and leave prison to return to the world, she made a vow that she would never again say anything to anyone that could not stand as her final words to them.
In reality is this possible, he asks, that we may never regret a spoken word? No, we are far too human to keep such a vow, but it certainly serves as a powerful reminder to always be gentle and kind. On this Good Friday I am thinking of the last words that Jesus spoke to his disciples and in the final hours as he was being crucified. You can look that up too, if you’d like, search for the last words of Jesus.
Here are two of those phrases I cling to. I believe this is how Jesus told us goodbye as he left this world for eternity. His words cause my eyes to shine.
In the last hours with his disciples in that tense upper room, Jesus promised; “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” (John 14:25-26).
Then as Jesus hung dying on the cross between two criminals, one was repentant and asked, “Jesus, when you come into your kingdom remember me.” Jesus answered, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43).