We’d lost touch with each other over the years.
Gerry had one of the first Beatle haircuts in town and was in “The Legends.” I was in a rival band, “The Signets.” Both were blue-eyed soul bands. The Legends once played a 2-chord instrumental for 3 hours straight on a friend’s front porch. That had to be a Guinness record – In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, the longest song known to man, was only 17 minutes long and they had gone 3 hours! I think that qualifies for canonization. Gerry had one of the nicest guitars of anyone I knew, a blonde Epiphone Casino like John Lennon’s. We were friends in college, drinking beer together and wasting time in the Student Union drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. After college, my life went downhill until Jesus apprehended me. Gerry’s life took a downward turn as well, and he developed agoraphobia. He would have a panic attack every time he’d attempt to leave town. So from sometime in the 70’s, he became a prisoner of our town. He never left again.
Along the way, Gerry and I both got married, had children, and our lives took different directions. A few years later I heard that he got divorced.
Fast forward 25+ years. One day I see him from a distance in Wal-mart. The Lord prompts me to give him a call. I tell him I’d seen him and wondered if he like to get together for coffee. He’s glad to hear from me and anxious to hook up. So we meet at Starbucks a couple days later, two fifty-something guys getting reacquainted after being out of touch for far too long.
I start off by telling Gerry my favorite memory of him. It was the time a friend and I were supposed to meet him at a campus apartment, but we show up an hour late. When we come in, Gerry is sitting at the kitchen table, studying a beer bottle. He looks up at us, takes a drag on his Kool filter and says, “This is the famous Budweiser beer, brewed with the finest hops and malts….” While waiting for us, he has memorized the entire label on a bottle of Bud. That snapshot pretty much captures our lives back then.
Gerry tells me he has cancer. I wouldn’t know it by looking at him, but he tells me that 2 years ago the doctors gave him 2 years after discovering a large tumor in his intestines. He tells me he’s been reading the Bible for a year, which leads to talking about Jesus and his death as a substitute for us. God does something significant that day in our lives. We reestablish our friendship.
For the next year, Gerry and I get together regularly. He comes to our church and some other former friends renew their relationship with him. He meets new friends. Frank becomes a faithful bible study partner, as do Dennis and Tim. Each week they call Gerry and talk about a bible passage. Every Sunday Gerry comes to our church and stands in the back listening to me preach – he’s pretty sick – often in so much pain he can’t sit, but he usually makes it through the message before he has to go home and back to bed.
We go out to lunch once a week – I get the salad bar and load up my plate, but all he can eat is a few fries with gravy. He often treats me. Week after week, we talk of Jesus, as Gerry grows more thin and frail. He tells me that he and Frank are reading 1 John and that Jesus has convicted him that he needs to love people. He tells me that for years he has hated many people but now he has decided to forgive everyone who has ever wronged him. He wants to devote his life to Jesus, doing all he can to please him for the rest of his days. He wants to do as much good to as many people as he can.
In these days of suffering, God gives Gerry a gift – painting pictures. He paints every day. Landscapes, boats and Mediterranean seaport scenes. And he gives his paintings away. One hangs in my office.
Fast forward to this past Wednesday evening. I call and his dad answers. “How is your son?” I ask. “We’re in a death watch. Come over and see Gerry.” I get there and see him, lying in the special bed they’d set up for him in the family room. Gerry’s eyes are open, his breathing is shallow, a “death rattle”. I don’t know if he can hear me, but I hold his hand and tell him Jesus loves him, and thank him for being such a good friend. I tell him that nothing can separate him from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and pray for him.
Gerry’s dad and mom are there, grieving, watching their son’s last moments. Then his mom says, “Gerry can finally leave town now.” His agoraphobia is over. He’s leaving town – for heaven. For a face to face appointment with his Savior. I tell Gerry goodbye. “I love you, Gerry. See you soon.”
Gerry left town yesterday at 1 in the morning. I can’t wait to see him again.