Standing In The Gap Of The Real And Perceived
My friend Mack Taylor died early Monday morning. He was 75, around the years appointed to a man. He did okay. Truth be known, Mack was an average guy who nonetheless did a lot with what he had, and was a lot more than he seemed. He made average look pretty special.
It was not my privilege to cross life paths with Mack until near the end of his. But in that short time, I came to know Mack as a peculiarity in the modern world, a throwback to a generation with a different set of values than its beneficiaries.
Mack was ubiquitous. He didn’t draw attention to himself, but he wasn’t afraid to walk up and say ‘Hi,” week after week. He wasn’t a foul man, but he liked a good joke, even if it was a little dicey. He was everywhere in the church we once attended together. He would arrive unnoticed, and start doing what needed to be done. He wasn’t the earliest there or the latest to leave. He didn’t need to be. I never saw Mack stand in the center, jockey for position, demand recognition, ask for a paycheck or a seat at the table, or ever use his activism as political leverage. He left the pecking order for others to figure out. Mack was secure. He respected order, but he, like his Savior, was no respecter of persons.
Mack didn’t ask to be my friend. He didn’t invite me anywhere, outside of a church men’s group. I think in 6 years, he called me once on the phone. I was a small, small part of his life.
And I didn’t ask him, either. That’s why he gave me pause when he would walk up to me out of nowhere and say, “I thought you could use this.” Whatever “this” was. A handshake. An ear. A shirt. Other stuff, too. Little things I didn’t even know I needed, right when I needed them. He didn’t ask. He didn’t grill. He didn’t make me qualify, pass muster or piss on a litmus strip for his attention or his favor. Like someone else I know. And it’s a good thing, too.
Of course, it wasn’t really the “thing” he was giving. It was himself, and the grace he’d been given. He paid it forward without having to coin a phrase and make a movie out of it. Service wasn’t his angle. It wasn’t his job. It was his joy. Three hundred years ago, he might have been a Quaker.
At the end of the day, that’s what I loved most about Mack.
“How ya doin’, Brian,” he’d start matter-of-factly, hand on my shoulder like an omnipresent uncle, in that affable, gravely, Eastwoodesque tenor of his. And on he went from there. That was Mack.
He was married for 55 years to the same woman, Sheila. Fifty-five years. Hm. Longer than all the years I’ve thought about naked women, video games, or being a rock star. Longer than all the years I’ve admired myself in the mirror. I wonder. Did he ever say,
“What am I doing?”
“Can I do this?”
“What did I just do?”
“I can’t do this.”
“What am I supposed to do now?”
“Why am I still here?”
“What the hell is wrong with this woman?”
“What the hell is wrong with me?”
“How long do I have to put up with this?”
“Am I man enough for this?”
Or, maybe even
“Are we still in love?”
“What about the one I lost?”
“Do I have enough time left?”
Maybe I’m projecting. Okay, I’m projecting. Still, 55 years is a long time to never wonder. But it didn’t matter. Mack made a commitment to Sheila. To God. ‘Til death. And Mack went the distance with his bride. Against the world in a tumultuous half century, he loved. And love going out comes back eventually. As romance. As warmth. As children and grandchildren. As friendship and companionship. ‘Til death, and by Mack’s example, beyond.
Mack made a career in the U.S. Air Force. It was a steady paycheck, and, I’m sure, he would say, an honor. But it was rigid. It was humbling. It was heartbreaking. It was scary. It was insane. It was lonely. For a while, it was Vietnam. But through all of that, he stayed. Apart from all of the satisfaction and frustration of an entire career serving his country, Mack saw the future. Honor, from submission. Freedom, from servitude. Choices, from regimentation. Even if someday he wasn’t here. For his country. For his wife. For his child. For all around him who saw him as an old, crusty relic. Mack, with millions of others like him, brought it, and in spades. More than I ever have, or ever will.
At every station in life, as far as I can tell, Mack was steady. Quiet, but not a pushover. Convicted, but not a blowhard. Sometimes dead on, sometimes dead wrong, but nevertheless there. A strong man, but not a strongman. And ready to subdue any whims of glory to bet on a better future. Without fanfare, wanting to be a part of something big, something good, something lasting, wherever he was, the transparent glue that provided cohesion. For God. For family. For country. In a day when they all seemed worthy.
May God give us revival in this land, and more salt-of-the-earth men like Mack. Men that just show up, throw in, and build foundations. Ours.
Thanks, Mack. Many, many thanks.