Uncle Wayne smiled a lot. He had a big, broad, genuine smile that he wore generously, like the sun wears sunshine. It doesn’t take much time to get a glowing tan on a super-sunny day, and it didn’t take much time for our family to decide that Wayne was a downright good guy—the kind of guy you could count on, confide in, and learn from.
I remember when they brought my baby cousin Jessica home from the hospital. Jessica is a willowy beauty, and she was an infant lumberjack with red hair and cheeks like a wintering squirrel. His pride beamed.
I remember when he adopted my other baby cousin Natalie. Another beautiful scarlet-locked daughter in whom to invest devotion, care for and love. To the world, it was just as if she were his own. To him, she was.
I remember hearing the news that he and my mom’s sister were divorcing, accompanied by snippets of lore, and I hoped that I wouldn’t lose my uncle Wayne. After all, he was my uncle. Why did this divorce have to mean anything to the rest of us? I wondered if families could divorce the blood relation and keep the sanguine in-law. I never actually asked the question, just decided that he was my uncle no matter what anyone said.
“I can’t make out his writing.” The pastor wanted to share some things that Uncle Wayne had written down a day or so before he passed. From the scribbles, the pastor read:
“Glory to God!” … live with a Kingdom view, not an Earthly one … spiritual accomplishments are far more important than earthly ones … don’t miss opportunities to express kindness, to be an ambassador for Christ … be genuine in your kindness … don’t shy away from people in pain … ask if you can pray for someone, and if they say yes, do it on the spot … don’t miss the opportunity … Romans 5:3-5 guides us to rejoice in suffering because suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope … hold on to hope … keep a clear mind; do you really need to be right all the time? … live for what is really most important …”
My mind paused on the pastor’s confession. I wonder if anyone who knew Uncle Wayne had doubts about what was on that paper, for he’d lived in such a way that the manifesto might be cast into the shadow of the mere memory of his big, broad, genuine smile. And if I may add an observation to the decree, my uncle Wayne chose to forgive. I don’t know if forgiveness was on the paper, but it didn’t need to be. As best I could tell, he lived his faith and forgave generously.
Maybe the suffering he referenced by citing Romans wasn’t about the cancer at all. Maybe it’s the suffering each of us faces when forgiveness is the only path back to hope and happiness, even as a great debt beckons the righteous grip of grudge. I have no idea. But as the pastor deciphered the ink scratches, I thought that maybe this is what it means to rejoice in suffering.
I wanted to go up to the microphone and share my memories of Uncle Wayne, but my feet froze and a great lump formed in my throat. Surely these memories from years ago would have no place in today’s remembrance. Nevertheless, I remember his smile, his kindness, and that he was a forgiver. And it didn’t matter if the pastor could make out what was on the paper because Uncle Wayne lived a big, broad, genuine life when it came to what is really most important.