About a year ago, and then sometime before that, I described a man who attended the UU church that I'm a member of. Archie (not his real name) was an opinionated, badly behaved elderly gent who, it seemed, simply could not contain himself. The mere mention of his name was shorthand for "Nobody likes him, but we can't make him leave."
After his car wreck, we saw a rapid decline in Archie. He lost an alarming amount of weight, and was never seen without a neck brace, an oxygen tank, or his wife Edith. We had never seen the lady before, but the general consensus was that she did not share her husband's religious preference. All of this changed once Archie was forced to surrender his driver's license. She was at Sunday services with him, the early-morning discussion forum, and even an eclectic, semi-metaphysical group that meets once a month on Saturdays. He was known in every quarter of the town, attending meetings of retired members of his former profession and contributing to a senior-citizen organization.
As the months went on, Archie and Edith continued their attendance at all of the above-referenced functions. Edith quite obviously had health problems of her own. She would most likely have preferred to remain at home, comfortably attired, but she got dressed up and drove him wherever he wanted to go. She always sat directly behind Archie, because he needed his back rubbed and his oxygen adjusted. He also needed her to occasionally poke him and murmur "Archie -- shush!" when he got caught up in the moment and offered one of his famous outbursts. For the most part, he behaved, but due to the pain he was in, everyone in any room knew when he had arrived, because a hearty and high-pitched "Woo-hoo!!" was what we heard as he settled into his rolling walker-chair and put his leg up to rest it.
Archie simply never missed any gathering, no matter how bad his bodily pains got. And when he did fail to show, we knew something serious was going on. Sure enough, in late April, the minister announced from the pulpit that Archie was in the intensive-care unit, and had been intubated. About a week later, we had an update that the minister had paid him a visit in the hospital, and that no one should be too surprised to hear that he had passed on. That announcement came the next afternoon. The minister himself had been at the scene, and Archie had taken his hand in a surprisingly strong grip, not letting go until the end.
He was a tough, determined guy, and we learned more about this fact at the memorial service that was held for him. Archie and Edith had no children, just nieces and nephews. The two of them had met some 60 years ago, around the time he was flying air refueling tankers for the Air Force. Edith said he had swept her off her feet. Apparently, he continued to do so, and when he started getting sick (turns out he had Lou Gehrig's Disease), his main concern was that Edith would be left alone and uncared for.
The minister recalled a time he had paid a home visit to Archie. In the den were six TV sets, all working, all turned to a different news channel. Only one was running the sound; Archie kept track of the world by watching the crawls along the bottoms of the screens.
Unitarian Universalists don't have a scripture or a creed, just seven principles. The first is, "the inherent worth and dignity of every person," and the last is "respect for the interdependent web of existence, of which we are all a part."
Archie's memorial was a powerful reminder of these important "absolutes."
Photo credit: Rex Temple afghanistanmylasttour.com