Readers’ Digest used to have a regular feature entitled, My Most Unforgettable Character. As a child, I loved to learn about these larger than life characters who inspired someone to write about them.
My father died this past September, after 85 years on this earth. He wasn’t larger than life, an extrovert, or the life of the party, but the more I think about it the more I believe he is my most unforgettable character.
For most of my childhood, my father occupied the background, mainly because his career demanded long hours. The other reason is that my mother took center stage in the home, a role partially due to the times and because she relished it.
My father didn’t preach, pontificate, or lecture us when we were children or when we became adults. He simply went about living his quiet life – a life marked by faith, self-discipline, and continuous self-improvement.
His life-long habits included rising extremely early and reading his Bible and devotions before anything else. The evidence of his searching the scriptures is apparent by his much-underlined Bible. In 1989 he received his first One Year Bible and it led him to initiate a program at church called, “A Little Yeast.” The intent was to present every new member with their own copy and to encourage them, once they had finished it, to pass it on. The only problem with his plan became apparent when no one wanted to give his or her Bible away. At the time of his death over 500 new members benefited from this desire to share God’s word.
He served in various roles in every church he attended, volunteering for the jobs no one else wanted. After supper, he would make calls on families who had not been attending church regularly or asking church members to be more giving of their time, talent and treasures. Surprising given his tendency to be introverted, but he said he relished the challenge.
He impressed others well into his 80’s with his physical labors in the garden or yard as well as his exercise routine on his treadmill or stationary bike.
Although people were puzzling to him, in the spirit of self-improvement he tried to learn about them. As a child I found it fascinating that he had the multi-volume set by Dale Carnegie, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” on his office bookshelf. He constantly studied vocabulary lists and after his death, I found bits of paper with words and definitions on them saved in his files.
The desire for self-improvement included his ideas for inventions and for ways products could be improved. His files contained many letters written to various companies about his ideas.
In March of this year he began to experience diabetic ulcers on his foot and in spite of his diligent self-care, they only became worse. Because of his congestive heart failure, he couldn’t opt for some of the more extensive procedures to allow more blood flow to the foot for healing. Finally, in July he developed gangrene and part of his foot was amputated. To our surprise after the initial recovery, which seemed positive, his condition began to deteriorate and he began to fail drastically. He became weak, sleepy and often confused.
One day while passing the time together waiting for the doctor, I asked him to share a favorite passage. He mumbled something that I thought might have been a word in Armenian, his first language, but then he clearly recited,
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stall, yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
From Habakkuk, he added. Now I understood. I quickly found it on my Bible app. With tears in my eyes, I shared the last verse to his recitation:
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.
His eyes lit up and asked for his Bible so that he could mark it. What an awesome God, I thought, to send encouragement just when most needed.
That was the last real conversation I had with him. Less than two weeks later, he went home to heaven. Over the next few weeks as I reviewed all of his files and papers I came to realize that it’s not that his words made him unforgettable, it is the culmination of his life’s actions.
That’s why he will always be my most unforgettable character.