From the corner of my eye I watch Jerry shuffle out of the Carpenter’s Lodge into the chill November darkness. From a pile of firewood near the kitchen door he carefully selects four or five logs. Some are split. Some are short but whole. His rough workman’s hands choose those short enough to fit into the canvas carrier and light enough to haul.
At 83 Jerry is still handsome, with a shock of white hair, a full moustache, a twinkle in his eye, and a mischievous grin. Women and men love him. He can be funny. He can be kind. He recognizes pain in others and listens deeply to anyone who is lonely or sad. He is certain that God is love.
He walks carefully, slowly toward the light of the Lodge at Dayspring where eight retreatants and a grand stone fireplace await his ministrations.
On this silent church retreat, Jerry’s role is to tend the fire. He enjoys this responsibility and takes it seriously. As long as a single soul is in the room the fire will not go out.
Fire tending fits him, I think as I silently watch.
Fifty years ago from the height of 40-foot creosoted poles, he brought light to dark places and heat to homes, hospitals, even prisons. He was proud to be a power lineman. Then a friend introduced him to the beauty of opera, and suddenly the fires of Beethoven, Van Gogh, and Walt Whitman lit up his spirit and mind. He wanted to consume more and more, so he went to college.
His heart warmed to a laughing dark-haired girl who also loved these things. He was seven years older and seemed sophisticated. He reminded her of Rhett Butler.
Thirty-some years ago he became a national hero when, in a blaze of gunfire, he saved a president’s life.
And always, always, he burned with the fire of God.
Now in his 80s Jerry still has fire in his belly. He invents imaginary vengeful acts to anyone who dares hurt my feelings or those of one of our children—or a fool who cuts him off in traffic. He is especially hard on any arrogant person who looks down on folks who are old. He honors the flag and his Air Force uniform hangs in his closet, ready to wear should his country need him.
These days he may forget what he had for lunch or the ages of his grandchildren, but he still remembers more than he has lost. He remembers how to make love to the woman whom he still finds beautiful, though her hair is no longer black.
And he still remembers how to build a really good fire.