It happened twenty years ago today and I still wonder. What was he thinking?

The red-hot memories of that ice-cold morning are branded deeply into my brain, and they remain crystal clear to this day. I was nineteen and a mess. He was forty-nine and dying. And we were both trying to make some sense of it all. Little did I realize that dark and early morning when I walked into his hospital room that I was stepping through his doorway to eternity.

My father had been a warrior, a mighty man of valor. For three dreadfully long and painful years he daily faced his hideous foe in a life and death battle. Cancer ambushed him when he wasn’t looking. It was a fiendishly cheap shot that sent him to his knees. The blow was so stunningly fast and deadly accurate that at first he didn’t know what hit him. But, once he shook off the blinding shock of the crashing blow, he deliberately rose to his full stature and stared his enemy eye to eye. Then he drew his sword.

His sword. Never had I seen its equal. While in its sheath, it hung gracefully, even almost unnoticed, on his side. But when the warrior’s skillful hand wrapped around that well-worn handle, and the razor sharp blade silently slipped from its magnificent cover, the mortally wounded became the mighty warrior. The double-edged steel of faith and hope daily and skillfully sliced through the shackles of pain and despair. Some nights as the heinous battle raged, I would wake to his painful groans inflicted by the fight. But when I raced to the battlefield and his side, he was always holding his sword steady and poised.

On this particular morning, however, the warrior was weary and worn. Cancer had mustered an army of loathsome reinforcements against him, and his battle wounds were many. His valiant sword now silently lay by his side, and he was too weak to pick it up. As I stood by his bed, the final vicious and violent attack began. Doctors and nurses charged around him frantically fighting against death’s last assault. It was no use. Their efforts were noble, but their weapons inadequate against the ruthless and sadistic enemy. We all knew the inevitable end had come.

And that’s when it happened. The warrior, gasping for every breath, was lying looking at the ceiling while I helplessly stood across his hospital room. But as the final battle raged, my dad turned his head to look at me. Our eyes locked in a wordless stare that lasted only seconds, but seemed like time stood still. Neither of us said anything.

What was he thinking? My dad was finally crossing the chasm from time into eternity, from life to death, and he was utterly aware and fully conscious of that staggering reality. He knew that his brief life would be over within a few short breaths. What was he thinking? I have asked myself that question a thousand times. As he stared into my eyes, what was he thinking? After what seemed like eternal seconds of our intensely profound visual embrace, he looked back up at the ceiling. And then he died.

There is another question that I’ve asked myself a thousand times, as well. If I am conscious when I slip away into eternity, and am aware of what is happening, what will I be thinking? Will it be, “Oh God, not now.” Or maybe, “Dear Lord Jesus, just give me one more chance to do it again. I promise, Lord, I’ll believe you more. I’ll commit myself to knowing you better. I’ll live on the edge for you. Oh, God, pleased give me one more chance; just one more chance, Lord. Please, God, just one more chance.”

Or, if I live wisely now, hopefully I’ll peacefully whisper, “Father, by your grace I’m ready. Take me home.” And I’ll hear Him reply, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

It happened twenty years ago today, and I still wonder. What was he thinking? What will I be thinking? What will you be thinking?

After the warrior had passed into his glory, I left the room. And as I walked out the door, I strapped his sword to my side.

© 1993 Chip Kirk

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