Earlier this year, my 27-year-old daughter was home visiting and we zipped into a Target store, looking for something specific. We powered through the store, saw that it wasn’t available, and zoomed back out of the store. Seven minutes max.
As we walked toward our car, I noticed an elderly gentleman walking slowly through the parking lot, turning his head from side to side, clearly scanning the rows of cars for his own vehicle. He caught my eye because I had seen him when we rushed by on our way into the store, too.
At my car, I had my hand on the door handle when I turned to check on the man’s progress once more. He was still looking.
“I can’t leave him, Annette,” I said. “I just can’t.”
So we approached him, introduced ourselves and asked if we could help him find his car.
“I always park in the same place, out a ways from the store,” he said, “but I just can’t seem to find it.”
He had his keys in his hand, and was occasionally pressing the “unlock” and “lock” to see if the lights or horn caught his attention. He told us the color and make of his car, so while I stayed with the man and looked, Annette crisscrossed through the lot to broaden the search.
Before long, Annette gave a yell and, sure enough, she found his car parked close to the store in one of the spots reserved for the handicapped.
“Oh, now I remember,” the man said embarrassedly. “I was driving around, when someone pulled out, so I was able to pull in.”
We watched him get in his car, then turned back toward our own.
I don’t share this story to elicit a pat on the back. I’m guessing many of you would’ve done the same thing — it’s just the right thing to do.
I learned that from my dad, Don Miller.
And it’s with that lesson that I celebrate his life, which ended late Sept. 10. A life of 89 years and a thousand simple gestures of kindness, friendship, and community and church devotion. Acts our family will probably never hear about, like one example an acquaintance shared following Dad’s death: My dad, then well into his 70s, would sleep on his next-door neighbors’ couch because of their own advanced age and ill health, should the wife need help with the husband during the night.
When I was a freshman in college, I came home for a weekend visit, which included church services at our small church in Walnut Creek. I drove separately from my parents and caught the end of the Sunday School hour before the worship service. I peeked into the sanctuary to see if Mom and Dad were already seated, when I spied Dad teaching the high school class under the balcony.
The teenage me did a double-take. What on earth was my Dad doing teaching the high school class? He was “so out of touch” with me and my friends, I thought, he should be the last person teaching the class.
Over lunch, I asked Dad why he was teaching the class. “Because no one else would,” he answered.
Dad was no angel, I know. We children saw the quick end of his temper (usually deserved). And if we heard the word “ornery” once during calling hours, we heard it 100 times.
But Dad was a servant leader before anyone came up with that phrase. He hated injustice and was never afraid to speak out and work on behalf of others.
In 1968, he was milking cows when he was encouraged to run for Holmes County Treasurer. He told me much later that he took a pay cut when he was elected — not an easy decision when you have five children and a farm mortgage. He was good at his job, and was re-elected, unopposed, to four terms.
Fifteen years ago, the local newspaper interviewed Dad for a “senior profile.” As the reporter followed Dad on his morning rounds to Der Dutchman restaurant and Schlabach’s Store, he observed Dad picking up some litter and pulling some weeds around the Veteran’s Memorial by the post office. When asked about it, Dad replied simply, “Somebody needs to do those things, so it might as well be me.”
Just think how different our world might be if we all heeded those words, rather than wait for someone else to step up to tasks both large and small.
I hope I can be ‘somebody’ just like him.
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