In this year of St. Joseph, I have been giving serious thought about acceptance as a virtue. Joseph had an enormous commitment to the will of God to accept becoming the husband of Mary and the father of Jesus. We focus so much on Mary, and rightly so, but tend to see Joseph through a blurred lens, but Joseph accepted marrying a pregnant girl, accepted moving to Egypt and accepted all those dad things with Jesus - changed his nappies, held his hand, taught him new things, hugged, and loved him. I suspect that he probably had to discipline him. The “hard core” may be offended, thinking that Jesus as perfect, but being a perfectly human child, I expect that he had some moments. In his acceptance, Joseph was the perfectly human father raising Jesus the perfectly human son. With all the skills and characteristics of Joseph in mind, it is in his unwavering and courageous sense of acceptance that Joseph becomes a model for me.
Joseph is an important name in my family, being the confirmation name of three generations of Furlow males, the name of my Mother’s father, and the name of my oldest son, and I hope that the values of Joseph as a man of acceptance, a husband, a father, and a servant of God are buried deep in my spiritual DNA.
With that in mind, let me explain the real reason that I am writing; let me tell you about Bob.
Bob was more of an acquaintance than a friend. He became a part of our weekly Geezer Lunch of retired guys and was better known by the other participants. I got to know Bob through them, and I found him to be a wonderful conversationalist, sophisticated, erudite, and possessing a desert dry sense of humor. He was a renaissance man, a devotee of the arts and music, a voracious reader, and an endless resource of practical knowledge. In our group. Bob was the architect, one is a retired teacher, another a brainy techno nerd, and the last an aerospace expert – all of them are self-professed athiests. I am ex-pastoral planner and the only believer in the group. I hold the Theology Chair at our weekly discussions.
Bob brought something else to our group, he was dying from runaway prostate cancer; it is the same cancer that I have - mine has been in remission for the last five years, but I know it to be a particular nasty thing to die from. As an atheist, he confronted this invasive disease by himself. In the same circumstances I chose to give it up to God. I got to experience His companionship, and let His will be done in a difficult journey of acceptance that is probably not over. Bob was alone.
He was often uncomfortable with my faith, especially when I would remind him that I was praying for him. It was just my way to evangelize him, to accompany him, to remind him that there is something more, and to ask God to be merciful with him. Unchurched, he was fair, considerate, and righteous and I let him know how much I enjoyed who he was as a man.
Bob died some weeks ago, trapped in the unremitting and painful embrace of terminal cancer, he killed himself. I know that “killed himself” sounds harsh, but how do you sanitize drinking a prescribed lethal cocktail and drifting off into what Bob believed was the great nothing? I’m not sure if I could do it, but I wasn’t the one on sweat soaked sheets in constant pain. His friends were a bit skittish telling me about it, not knowing how I would react. There was no censure, or critique of his choice, and despite being very saddened and disturbed by his death I continued to pray for his soul, confident that none of us can understand the endless forgiveness of God or appreciate the resilient mercy that he affords in his love of us.
Anything less is not acceptable.