When the New Year arrives every year, I, like most, look forward to the next 12 months filled with promise, opportunity, and a chance to reform bad habits. I’ve already done that. In early November, I went on a serious diet instead of waiting until mid-January. Tink was puzzled.
“Don’t do that now. The holidays are coming,” he said. I knew that, but my clothes were getting tight so I knew that if I waited, I would spend two months worrying over what to wear that would fit properly. “Besides,” I said, “if I wait, I’ll probably gain more weight.” I plunged in and triumphed over temptation. I don’t need to resolve to exercise more. I did that in good measure in 2014. I ran faithfully a few times a week — even in the humid, unrelenting summer — and six months ago, I bought a fantastic pilates machine to which I am equally faithful.
It would be useless to vow to work harder or even smarter. My work days are routinely 12 to 14 hours, leaving Tink to say often, “You are the hardest working person I have ever seen.” I still fall short of doing all I’d like but I’m not a slacker. I can live with that. So, instead of using this time to look forward, I’d like to look back at three people who left our lives in 2014 and pay tribute to what each taught me.
Dot Burkett was the first and, for our family, the most painful. What seemed to be simple indigestion was, in truth, malicious pancreatic cancer. We prayed, we cried then, less than a month after diagnosis, we sorrowed together under the searing July midday sun. There was no finer Southern woman. That would be impossible. She spoke sweetly — always — with a soft, Southern drawl. She placed the utmost importance on family and when it came to cooking, no one was a finer Southern cook than Miss Dot. Her devotion to the Lord, church, Sunday school, and her mission group were legendary. So when we lost her, we lost both good food and a prayer warrior of unmatched proportion. Six days before she was called to her heavenly reward, I received a handwritten thank you note for several books I had sent for her to read during chemo. I keep it in the piece of orange pottery on my kitchen island to remind me — good manners should prevail until the end.
Don Light, historic in Nashville as a powerbroker and star-maker, died two weeks after sweet Dot. He had guided me and mentored me since I was 21. He did so much with his life, beginning with his time as a drummer on the Grand Ole Opry. He was a founding director of the Gospel Music Association and the man credited with discovering and launching the American icon known as Jimmy Buffett. His memorial service paid tribute to his accomplishments and the lives he touched. Mine was one. He called every birthday without fail. I still have his voicemail from my last birthday and will miss it in a few weeks. A Chinese proverb says, “When an old man dies, a library burns down.” That was Don Light. He took a library of wisdom, experience, and knowledge with him. I shall miss his friendship and counsel. Gene Palmer touched my life in a way that few might understand. He passed softly into the night, touching the hand of the Lord as he crossed the River Jordan. Few men have known more trouble on Earth or caused more trouble than my friend, Gene. Yet his lesson remains: People can change. Our cynicism screams “No!” But they can. As Gene would tell you if he were here, “Jesus can do anything. Just look at me.”
My life is better for knowing these three people. Now, it’s much sadder for the losses.
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