We stand in a half-moon around his bed, as the white sheet rises and falls with each slow breath.
They say the hearing is the last thing to go, so we gather bedside to sing the old farmer Home. He’s a bachelor. His sister, never married, took care of him all these years after their mama died. They’ve made a home, a simple home, in a square farmhouse where sunlight spills over Bibles and threadbare couches.
In a way, we’re family — this ragtag choir with hymnals open and lumps in throats.
Eighty-six years in all. That’s how long Selmer’s been walking toward the exit Home. And he’s almost there.
Lucky guy, I think. Only I don’t believe in “luck,” but still …
His eyes are open, cutting holes through a ceiling, and I wonder what he sees. I look up, too, hoping to steal a shared glimpse of what captivates him so. Maybe this is the final earthly grace of God, a Father who perhaps grants us a vision of what lies beyond the exit before we step through the door?
The old farmer is dying, and yet he is a holy marvel. He is a portrait of grace in a breathing body, heart beating but slowing, and he is showing us what it means to live and then to leave. This is a sacramental moment. We partake, one body, singing with cradled hymnals. And even the men among us cry. How can we not?
He listens, with his eyes stayed on the invisible.
Just as I am Without one plea
But that thy blood was shed for me
and that thou bidst me come to thee
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
His twin brother, a widower named Helmer, unfolds himself from his chair to stand tall, and sing the bass line strong and loud. No hymnal required.
I wonder: what would it feel like to say goodbye to someone with whom you shared a womb, a life?
The sister is here, too. Hazel folds her hands in her lap and sings every word. She doesn’t need a hymnal either.
They know all the words, because they know all the words. These songs are the soundtrack of their lives. These are the songs that have withstood centuries, bound in books and hearts, and they belong to Helmer and Selmer and sister Hazel. And they belong to us — even us, the ones who often worship with Tomlin and TobyMac.
Trish asks: Do you have any requests?
Hazel says he always liked “Children of the Heavenly Father.” I smile, remembering how this one is his twin’s favorite, too.
We turn to 474 to sing a special request.
“Children of the heav’nly Father
Safely in his bosom gather;
Nestling bird or star in heaven
Such a refuge ne’er was given.”
Five days later, Selmer went Home.
And tomorrow — second day of spring — we’ll gather graveside while the birds nestle in the Norway spruce, all of them singing end-of-winter songs. And we’ll sing his lullaby once more, in honor of a life well-lived and well-invested in the things of God. And our voices will rise from a hallowed ground.
On and on it goes: This endless cycle of living and loving
We sang him Home, and
we’re all singing our way Home,
and we know the Way Home:
Neither life nor death shall ever
From the Lord His children sever;
Unto them His grace He showeth,
And their sorrows all He knoweth.
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