Back in January, shortly before my 65th birthday, I wrote a column about what I had learned since I was 20. Tongue-in-cheek, I closed with, "I wonder what I'll learn in the next 45 years"
I was ill prepared for what I learned in the next few days. The week the column was published, my wife of 43 years died suddenly and unexpectedly from a complication of chemotherapy.
It's been three months since that difficult day and I can tell you that I have learned a great deal. I have learned about grieving and facing a future forever changed but most importantly I have learned about goodness.
Over three decades in the newspaper business I had built a shell around my heart. In those years I had to deal with some very difficult people people who did not hesitate to tell me what a cretin I was for printing something with which they disagreed, even if the story was true and accurate. On one occasion an irate reader threatened my life.
A physician friend told me recently that he, too, had built a shell to protect his heart from the stinging verbal attacks of unhappy patients and their families.
These shells result in a level of cynicism about people. Not with people I know and love but with humanity in general.
While my 5 years with The Salvation Army had allowed the shell to diminish to some degree in January of this year I was still carrying around an unhealthy level of cynicism.
From the moment of Cindy's death, however, I have been exposed to kindnesses and goodnesses that have done a number on that shell.
It started in the hospital ICU where Cindy died. The nurses and ICU doctor were considerate and compassionate as my son and I dealt with our shock and anguish. A hospital chaplain came immediately and walked us through those first dark moments. His kindness felt like it came from heaven itself.
The days immediately following remain a blur in my memory but within hours Cindy's and my families were there to comfort and help. Friends and relatives in large numbers attended the visitation and overflowed our church sanctuary at the funeral. Our church family went far beyond what was necessary to serve and comfort us.
I was humbled and overwhelmed with the number of flowers, sympathy cards and phone calls. The mailbox was full of cards for weeks after the funeral. Another arrived just last week.
Tears flowed each day as I read the cards and considered the kindness and compassion of the senders. Some of the cards were from people I have never met. What kindness. What goodness. That shell around my heart was deteriorating.
Friends and relatives kept my freezer full for weeks. Two nieces and their families who live nearby have been special blessings. They work hard to make sure their old uncle is doing okay and eating well. More goodness and kindness.
The Salvation Army community and Rotary Club friends have shown me many acts of kindness and compassion.
Two of my friends were widowed in recent years and both have been remarkable sources of compassion, friendship, guidance and answers to my crazy questions.
In the weeks since the funeral my pastor and church family have surrounded me with love and concern. Each hug has helped crack that shell a little more.
My children both remarkable reminders of their mother have been wonderful and have stepped up to care for their father in ways I had not anticipated.
I have been overwhelmed with goodness over the past three months.
The chorus of a favorite hymn, Great is Thy Faithfulness," reads, "Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow" This is God's goodness and I have experienced it in many ways.
This year I have learned about goodness. Goodness of friends, neighbors, relatives and even total strangers. Goodness of a loving Heavenly Father. Goodness that has tenderized the heart of a cynical old newsman.
I have learned a great deal.