In the early 50s, my younger brother John and I would spend hours playing in the backyard of our rented home in Queens, New York. Ginny was a neighbor from two houses up the street who was about John’s age. One day we were playing in the yard when the following episode ensued:
“One of the larger trees had fallen over sometime in the past and now, with its roots exposed, it stuck out into space at about a thirty-degree angle.
The tree provided great fun. I would scramble up the base of the trunk and work my way up until I was straddling the tree high up in the air. One cold, gray day, John, Ginny, and I were playing back there. John was too small to make the initial climb up the trunk, so I put my young cowboy/space cadet mind to work and tried to apply the rudimentary laws of physics to get John up there with me. I got a rope and tied one end around John’s chest, under his arms, then threw the other end of the rope up over the trunk to a notch about six feet above the ground. Then, not having the strength to pull John up into the tree, I decided to use my weight advantage. I scampered up the trunk and tied a loop in the end of the rope and inserted my cowboy-booted foot into said loop. The plan was simple. I would let myself down on one side of the trunk thereby hoisting hapless John so he could share in the great experience of being up high. Then I slipped.
I fell off my side of the trunk, grabbing for something to hang onto and finding nothing but air. Gravity being what it is caused me to wind up, head down, suspended by one foot, dangling in the air. Meanwhile, John on the other side of the trunk was also suspended in the air, clad in his puffy winter jacket with his arms straight out on either side, the rope tight around his chest. Ginny was laughing hysterically.
“Go get my mom!” I screamed at Ginny. I can only imagine Mom’s first thought when she beheld one son dangling by a rope around his chest and the other upside down dangling by his foot. Years later, Mom would laugh at the memory of that sight.”
Excerpt From: Robert Frohlich. “Aimless Life, Awesome God.”
I was thinking about John this morning. He died in 2015 at the age of sixty-six after a bout with lung cancer. He always had a generous heart and a skeptical mind. He considered faith in God to be solely a matter of the heart, while he put his trust in his sharp mind and human reason. Through decades of long telephone conversations, letters and in later life our annual golf games on his birthday, John stoutly refused to put his faith in anything but his own reason. However, I kept on, trying to lift him in faith, much as I tried so long ago to lift him up that tree. Both efforts were futile, because my strength was insufficient for the task. But as he was facing death, and when I visited him the week he died, John let me pray for him. That last day, I read to him Psalm 103 which reads in part,
“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”
Psalms 103:8-12 (ESV)
I pray that in his last hours, John, my brother, my friend, heard and received these words of comfort.