His was, by all accounts, an ordinary life. I first met him when he was nearly 70, and I was not yet 30.
He was a quiet, Mennonite man who enjoyed reading — and writing — poetry in his spare time.
I was an newlywed expecting my first baby. I wrote nothing remotely close to poetry.
We met by dint of geography. He was also my township trustee and when I showed an interest in my new, rural community (and a burning desire to get out of the house a few nights a month) and began attending local township meetings, he made note of it.
When I began flapping my jaws (as I am prone to do) about how they should do this or that, he made a call.
“You seem to have a lot of ideas” he said, simply. “Would you like to put some of them to work?”
He suggested I serve the township on a volunteer zoning board. I’m a joiner by nature but still must confess that getting involved with rural zoning was not high on my list of Things to Do To Make Friends.
He was, however, fairly persuasive. In fact, in later years when asked how I became involved in township zoning, I often explain quite simply that all the REALLY unpopular jobs — like dogcatcher — were already taken.
Later, when I was frustrated about all I didn’t know in the early days, he suggested only that I “tell them what you do know and promise to get back to ‘em on what you don’t.”
I realized then that all his years in politics were prefaced not on slick middle-of-the-road wavering, hand-shaking and back-room deals, but on the old-fashioned premise that you should simply be yourself and do your best.
If only more politicos knew that worked.
“Why” I once asked, would you take on such thankless tasks? Does anyone EVER come to a meeting just to say THANKS?
“Thanks” for the clear roads?
“Thanks” for the fire department?
“No” he said simply, “but when they call and ask for our help they’re giving us a chance to earn it anyway.”
Nearly a decade after we met, his service to the township ended with a quiet retirement and a meeting room named in his honor.
Granted, it’s not a library, bridge or even midsized airport, but I daresay most of us will never have our name on a plaque on our very own public meeting room. I hope it made him proud. He earned it.
There are people in the world who live simply, honestly, and do right by others and themselves. In doing so, they often lead quiet lives.
One rarely makes the evening news for staying married “until death do us part.”
I can’t recall a ticker tape parades for faithful worship, clean living, or showing up to serve your community twice a month for 30 years straight.
Too many people seem to cast off relationships, responsibility — and respectability — when “outgrown” like shoes.
Being known as a “solid citizen” probably sounds more stodgy than stellar to many these days. We have become a nation of mover and shakers.
It is seen as almost a “failure” to be born, live and die in one small town.
Sticking with — and working for — one small community your whole life is seen as a colossal waste of talent to some.
I last spoke to him a few months ago. We spoke about local politics (the only kind we ever discussed) and his poetry and the community at large.
We said at the close of the conversation that we would speak again soon. Sadly, however, we won’t.
My friend died the other day. His final publication, read as I balanced the newspaper on my lap in the front seat of my car, garnered roughly eight column inches. Reading the obituary encapsulation of who he was, I realized that my friend had not lived an ordinary life at all.
His was a life of piety, hard work and service.
Eighty-one years of not embarrassing himself or others. Of showing up, getting the job done and staying true to God, family, community and fellow man.
Eighty-one years of doing all that and finding time to write a few poems to pretty up the world too? A life like that is far from ordinary. I’d call a life like that extraordinary even.
(Kymberly Foster Seabolt hopes to be half as good.)