My fondest memories of growing up was when we bought that house just across the road from you, and spent our summers there. On the weekends, Dad made Wayne and I mow and weed-eat your grass. Following, Dad would present watermelons from the farmer's market and Grandmother brewed Luzianne sweet tea for everyone. Dad invited all of your sons and daughters to join us, his brothers and sisters, who never left town, who all had found clerk and desk and teaching jobs in order to be near one another.
Once we ate, drank, and we kids spit the watermelon seeds at each other, adult talk began, so I would wander away and lay my eleven year old body under the maple trees, whose leaves turned into a sugary yellow and fiery red in the autumn. I would stare up through the limbs and into the animal clouds, and I imagined being an adult at nineteen years old with a backpack, traveling the world with a best friend, and "being nice to people."
And I did just that. I traveled through eighteen countries before my 31st birthday.
You said you were proud of me in your kitchen, that summer I spent with you because I was burned out on my career. And having trouble processing what I had encountered in the third world countries. You said I had turned into a fine young man. That I was a leader. You don't know this, but I needed to hear that from you.
Every young man needs a wise, loving, trusted elder, to look him in the eye and say, "You have what it takes. You're on a good path. I wouldn't change a thing about you. You're respected. You're loved. I'm proud of you." But you had always taught us to, "Seek first to understand before being understood." And Wayne and I have tried to apply that throughout our lives.
During the darkest times of your depression, you leaned heavily on your faith. And a love-hate relationship revealed itself. You said that on one of those nights, you were laying in bed, encountering another sleepless night. You sat up, burst into tears and told God, "I just don't trust You anymore. How can I trust You if you're going to treat me like this?"
And in faith, in the depths of your being, unintimidated by your anger and pain, and like a wise grandfather, you heard Him say to you, "It's okay, James. It's okay. When the fog clears you'll realize I was with you the entire time. And I've always been with you."
One of my favorite memories of you is like a video reel of you that replays in my mind when I return to nostalgia. You're wearing your sun hat, sitting in a wooden weaved chair under your favorite weeping willow tree that overlooks the pond. Under it, I find you reading different the Romantic and Victorian poets. CS Lewis. Tolkien, Thoreau. Aristotle. The Hebrew and Christian Bible. The frogs croak, the crickets chirp, the locusts tweed. And at the breaking of a single blade of grass, the anthem ceases, the frogs hop into the water with a thud. Water bugs skate across its waters. Long winged insects hover and bounce above the waters. Fish roll, disturbing the muddled surface.
I remember walking up to you once. You smiled and patted my leg and your eyes reverted back to your pages. We saw each other daily. You knew who I was. And you were well aware of my short attention span given the surroundings of the countryside left unexplored.
I squatted near the frisbee sized mushrooms with their smaller growths sprouting out beside them. I searched beneath their tops for toads, not because toads hung out beneath mushrooms, but because I had seen too many cartoons that suggested they did.
At night time, you watched us from your porch as we boys waited for the lightning bugs to come out at dusk. They hung in the air, dipping and flashing. And we boys tried to catch as many as possible in those old pickle jars you kept in the utility room. But once captured, the lightning bugs wouldn't flash their light. I guess, when trapped, their light dies out.
And so, I recall these little stories, these flashes of memories, and I read to you every night. You no longer stare off and mumble. You hold lengthy conversations now and are open to receiving visitors, who once before you would have held in suspicion.
Two weeks ago, Dad gave you a pair of five pound dumbbells and you'd walk in circles in the living room doing shoulder presses, bicep curls, side laterals. You weren't ready to spend most of your time outside, like you always have, but you knew you needed exercise. You said you could "feel your core healing." The rest will just take time. That's the thing about time. We cannot control time's time table. Time just takes it's time.
You'll now go for two or three short walks a day outside, but not for long periods. You get nervous and retreat back into the house where it's safe. You've made significant progress in just these four weeks. The doctor said it'll take you at least two months before you'll be back to your normal self. Even then, she said she wants you to take the medication for a full year. We won't argue with her.
We went for a two hour drive today across the countryside yesterday. You said you wanted to see the autumn leaves change. And so we did. And as you pointed at landmarks and recalled memories from your childhood and stories passed onto you from others, you smiled. And you thanked me for driving you.
One of my friends, Ronnie, who went through clinical depression at age 37, he said it took him four to six weeks to get through it. I asked him to write you a note of encouragement. And he said, "James, you will know when you get your relief. You will feel like your life was handed back to you. In the meantime, having the family support of your close ones should be cherished, take time to rest, catch up on non-professional passions or hobbies you may have neglected due to your responsibilities in life, and take some time to enjoy the changing leaves. You've earned it."
As I reflect on all that has occurred, I wish to remind you, to speak into your own life, the words which were spoken by Someone all those years ago: "It's okay, James. It's okay. When the fog clears, you'll realize I was with you the entire time. And I've always been with you."
And I'm thankful the sun is shining again.
Make sure to check out The Mason Jar, a coming of age love story from the male perspective by James Russell Lingerfelt. The novel helps readers find healing after severed relationships. The novel would make a great Christmas gift for a loved one.
The Mason Jar movie is scheduled for pre-production in 2015 and will be directed in the same dramatic and romantic tones as The Notebook (2004) and Pride & Prejudice (2005). Follow him on Facebook or Twitter for updates.