The bible tells us that our life is but a vapor, here today and gone tomorrow. While that helps us put the briefness of our life in context I have at times found it a little discouraging as well. You see, a vapor is seemingly soon forgotten; gone without a trace. Like disappearing fog. If you dwell on that too long it becomes easy to question how much difference our life really makes in the long run.
I found myself contemplating this several years ago.
I like to visit historic sites and during a break from business I drove outside Atlanta to the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park. At this civil war site over 5,000 soldiers died in late June of 1864. The park is incredibly well preserved. There is a marker showing where a general died; he was shot off his horse. There are shallow trenches where soldiers prepared for battle and where no doubt many of them died. Metal detectors are prohibited to prevent people from trying to collect the musket balls that are still embedded in the trees growing there. And the thought crossed my mind; are they just vapors faded into history?
The answer is no. You see vapors have a way of lingering. Our sense of smell is an incredible thing. I think even more so then music it ties us to our past. The slightest whiff of a familiar smell can instantly, and unexpectedly, take us to days gone by.
My softball glove resides in the garage. When moving and rearranging things I will sometimes catch a whiff of the glove leather. When that happens a rush of memories inevitably come flooding back to me. Memories like the time I caught a couple of 30 year old teammates lamenting how they had to take ibuprofen after games to deal with aches and pains. I pointed out that being 40, I had long ago learned to take the ibuprofen BEFORE the game. We all had a good laugh and they joked about how they “should have known to ask the old guy.”
That smell also brings back another memory. When we first moved the 140 miles from Roseburg to Salem I decided to join the softball team at the church we had decided to attend. I figured it would be a good way to get to know a few people. As it turned out, all but one of my teammates were younger then me. Most of them still full of competitive spirit (i.e. testosterone) and the desire to convince each other they were the force to be reckoned with on the ball field. Baseball is a game that lends itself to experience and at 39 I wasn’t intimidated by the younger guys. But I didn’t really fit in either. By that point in life I had no desire to beat my chest and say “look at me! Did you see that play.” I just wanted to have some fun, get some exercise, play well and most of all, get to know some people. There was only one other person on the team as old as me. His name was Tim Albus. Tim was the one guy who reached out in a friendly, sincere way to made me feel welcome. Although we were both pretty quiet guys we both knew baseball; how to make plays and get on base. As we got to know each other better we would often joke with each other about how the two old guys would show the young guys how to play the game that night. We weren’t flashy but we generally made plays and knew how to get on base and score. Although we never became really close friends Tim and I had a kind of knowing way between us.
I always appreciated how Tim would reach out to people in a subtle way, often unnoticed, to make them feel welcome. When we saw each other walking across the parking lot to church, in addition to saying hi to me, Tim would go out of his way to talk to my young son, also named Tim. Letting him know that anyone named Tim had to be a special person. Tim Albus and his family eventually moved to central Oregon and our softball days together came to an end. However, years later my son commented, with a smile, how Tim always told him they were both special because of their name. It is a small thing but small things often have a lasting impact. That vapor thing.
This weekend marks the sixth year of Tim Albus’ death in a tragic accident. The capsizing of the charter boat Taki-tooo off the shores of Tillamook Bay suddenly took the life of one of the good guys. A husband, father, son and brother. And also a friend.
So back to the scent of that leather ball glove. Inevitably memories of a particular game from that first summer in Salem come back to me. That first summer of our new life, in a new town. Memories of playing catch with Tim before the game. More specifically, memories of walking off the field at what is now Corban College after that game. A game in which we both had several hits and scored several runs. With a knowing grin Tim commented “well we showed those young guys again didn’t we Ted.” I laughed and said “we sure did.”
I know Tim Albus is in heaven, but his “vapor” lingers strongly six years after his life was so suddenly taken. I see it in his wife and kids; I know he would be very proud of them. And for me, Tim’s example of kindness to me as the new guy has reinforced the importance and desire I have to reach out to new people. Whether at work, church or in my neighborhood, it’s hard to be the new person. Some day my life will also come to an end and when it does I will be looking forward to another softball game with Tim. A day where we can both skip the ibuprofen and, like Field of Dreams, show the young guys how to “really” play the game.
Related Post: Vapors of a Life Well Lived II ; a long goodby