Wallace is 90 years old now, moving a little slower than he used to but still sharp as a tack and fully engaged in, as he would say, “doing the Lord’s work”. Yesterday he flew – alone – from Miami to Johnson City, Tennessee. This required that he change planes in Atlanta. In a wheelchair. And deal with TSA.
Understand, this is a true Southern gentleman who, just over 9 months ago, had open heart surgery. A month and a half or so ago, he fought a serious bout with bronchitis that nearly landed him in the hospital.
So you have to wonder: Why in the world would he take on a trip like this?
One reason and one reason only:
Wallace and Byron have been friends for nearly five decades. They served together as pastor and deacon in the same North Miami church for years. They raised families together, fished together, shared meals together, prayed together, and supported each through the grand celebrations and crushing disappointments of life. They are both good men, who have lived lives of excellence and service to God.
And now both are widowers.
Byron’s wife, Louise, died last Saturday after a long illness. Wallace, who lost his wife, Ernestine, almost 16 years ago and later remarried, is conducting Louise’s funeral today. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
Wallace is my father.
In our family, my Dad’s friendship with Byron was – and still is – the gold standard by which all other friendships are measured. Byron is unfailingly loyal and fair – he’s one of those people who defaults to a smile and assumes the best about everyone until proven otherwise. And he loves my Dad with his whole heart, as my Dad does him. They are cut from the same cloth, as they say in the South.
My mother, Ernestine, was comfortable with Louise in a way she was with few other people in her lifetime. As a pastor’s wife, my Mom often felt a little isolated and even vulnerable. But Louise was honest and unpretentious, brilliant and brave. The friendship they enjoyed was a great gift during some challenging times.
Louise could get my mother – who didn’t swim and was terrified of the ocean – to go out fishing ON A BOAT with their husbands and actually enjoy herself. Louise was one of a kind and my Mom dearly loved spending time with her. I can almost picture their long-awaited, heartfelt reunion in Heaven this past week. It lifts my heart.
Recently, my Dad referred to another close friend and by way of describing his friendship with the other man, he said, “When I was at Layton [a church in the Florida Keys], he was my Byron.” I knew exactly what he meant. It is high praise indeed to be called my Dad’s “Byron”.
Friends who are committed to each other and serve one another faithfully out of a joyful obligation and Christlike love, these are “Byrons” (my mother would add, “And Louises!”) They step up, they honor each other, and they honor the Lord, no matter what it takes. Sometimes it might call for navigating the Atlanta airport at 90 years old in a wheelchair … sometimes it’s just baiting hooks together on a choppy bay while fishing for “grunts”.
We do the right thing for our Byrons because that’s what they do for us.
May we all have (and be) the kind of friends who inspire and reciprocate that kind of love and loyalty. And may God comfort Byron and his family today in their grief.
Do you have a Byron? Are you a Byron to someone?
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