Never That Far Apart
Listen to “Never That Far Apart” by Fred Smith.
In 1977, it was not common to hear a young man in his 30’s considering giving away a fortune. But, there we were, Bob, Linda and me, all three of us in our thirties having dinner at Nieman Marcus in downtown Dallas, the flagship store, talking about just that.
Seven years passed before we had dinner again but this time it was more than musing. That same young man had decided to act on his intentions and invited me to join him in the adventure. Who in their right mind would say no to that? No one mentioned what great adventures are really like when they start or what it is to work with the consummate entrepreneur!
But, it was not long before we became “two guys and a typewriter from Tyler, Texas” or, as some people called us, the Blues Brothers. From that moment and for the next twelve years we were together, and it was a life on our own flagship. Bob was the Admiral and launched fleets of ideas, organizations, projects, start-ups and new ventures. He never met a new idea he didn’t like. James Taylor sings “never give up, never slow down, never grow old, never ever die young.” That was us.
Being with Bob was a voyage of discovery to new lands. But, instead of plundering their gold, he left them with more than when he arrived. He taught them to mine for the gold they had yet to unearth and then build ships and set sail on their own adventures.
He provoked, encouraged, stretched, inspired, prodded, nudged and supported – and more than a few times drove us nuts. St. Paul says we are to be cheerful givers. People have, I think, mistakenly taken that to mean hilarious givers who fall on the floor laughing when they give, I suppose. The word really means someone who has the ability to finish what their enthusiasm started. That was Bob.
The Scripture that most personifies Bob to me is Ecclesiastes 5. “Behold, what I have seen to be good and to be fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the work with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life which God has given him, for this is his calling. Every man also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and find enjoyment in his work—this is the gift of God. God keeps such people so busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood over the past.”
There is a difference between having wealth and being rich. Scripture often talks about “wealth and honor” in the same phrase. They go together. God-given wealth and God-given honor are inseparable. But honor is not merely recognition for being rich. It’s far more than that. The Hebrew word is “kabod” – which means weight or substance. It means when God gives wealth He also gives weight and substance to a person’s life and a sense of responsibility for their community. He gives an internal structure that we often call character. Through his business talent, he made some people rich but he made many, many more wealthy through his character. That was Bob.
The greatest compliment and gift I ever received from Bob came only weeks before he died. No longer in our thirties but in our 70’s this time, I went to visit him and Linda at the Farm. Bob could not speak what he wanted to say but we pulled a book off the shelf so he could point to words and string them together. After each word or phrase – like friendship, faith, love, adventure, joy – he would point to himself and then to me. We were still in it together. In that same song, James Taylor sings “they were never alone, they were never that far apart.” That, in the end, was us.
Some people say a piece of us dies when a friend passes. Not so for Bob. There is a little piece of each of us – the Bob piece – that lives on. Sometimes we let go and yet the people we held so dear and who loved us come back to us. It’s not hearing their voices in the night or seeing ghosts in the house. Rather, there is something of their lives left unfinished and in us they are still working to complete it. It is the sense that the best of who they were (and often the part we knew the least) is being lived out for them in us.
I tell men who have lost their fathers that they will be sitting alone three or four years from now and realize traits of their father they thought were his alone have been coming to life in them. It’s more than recollections. It is a kind of waking up to something long dormant. Sometimes the very traits and mannerisms we understood the least and resisted the most are the very things we begin to recognize in our own lives. It is their way of living on through us.
I think that is true for Bob and his place in our lives. Our mutual friend Curtis Meadows wrote: “The impact he made on me and my thinking was profound. I often quoted his books. Recently, I have found myself considering the title of his book “Finishing Well” and what that means to me. My paralyzing illness and advancing age have challenged me to contemplate how to do that however I can, wherever I am, as long as I am on this earth. Bob’s words call me to that thinking.”
Many of you are familiar with the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. In the close of the final book, we learn that the main characters have died in a train accident. At that very moment, they are met by the lion, Aslan.
“The light ahead was growing stronger. Lucy saw that a great series of many-colored cliffs led up in front of them like a giant’s staircase. And then she forgot everything else because Aslan himself was coming, leaping down from cliff to cliff like a living cataract of power and beauty.
“You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be.”
Lucy said, “We’re so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often.”
“No fear of that,” said Aslan. “Have you not guessed?”
Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.
“There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are – as you used to call it in the Shadow-Lands – dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”
“And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after.
But for them, it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now, at last, they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
But now, I can hear Bob saying to us, “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!”
*Painting by Mary McCleary