Arthur Roberts died last week. It was not unexpected; he was 93 and under hospice care. But the sense of grief and loss surprises me. There’s an empty space where once a tree stood tall.
The city of Newberg is building a new swimming pool complex. The work has begun. But when I drove by the lot a few weeks ago, the grove of trees by the old pool was gone. An empty lot of stumps, dirt and machinery mock the space they once occupied. I guess it had to happen, but the fact of it devastates.
The land itself has been devastated.
Somehow this is not an apt metaphor for Arthur’s death.
He was a tree in a mountain forest, the largest one around. He seemed to tower over all of us. He was loved. Frightening sometimes, but loved. I certainly loved him.
The tree is down and it leaves an empty space in the forest. But the tree had been extending its life for decades. Younger trees in all stages of development surround the place where he once towered. They grow and some may one day be as tall as the old one. Gradually they will fill in the space he left with branches, leaves, fruit—ongoing life.
And the fallen trunk itself keeps on giving. Death unto life.
Memories rise up. My fear of this philosophy professor as a college freshman. My surprise when I went in for an appointment and instead of a professor discovered a pastor.
I recall his ongoing interest in me as I grew up and into ministry, marriage, began a family, left for missionary service in Bolivia. Arthur and Fern always treated us as family, believed in us, encouraged us.
Our children’s first Bibles are inscribed, “To David…To Kristin…with love from Arthur and Fern.”
A circular wooden clock, crafted by Arthur, hangs in our living room. A Cherokee talking stick (that I actually used in my classes) lays in the bookcase.
He invited me to write the foreword to his poetry book about heaven, Prayers at Twilight. As I re-read these now, they take on an added poignancy. He now knows the answers to the questions the poems ask.
Several days before his death, we visited Arthur down in his room in the Friendsview health center. Terri and John were there, have been continually with him and Fern since he went into hospice care. His eyes were closed and he seemed to drift in and out of sleep. But he opened them from time to time, acknowledged us.
I reminded him of some advice he gave me years ago. I was thinking of going into a program of doctoral studies. He told me, “Forget all that academic stuff, Nancy. Write poetry.” He smiled as I reminded him, eyes still closed. I prayed for him before we left, and he whispered, “Amen.”
The last word he spoke to me. “Amen.” So be it. A life well lived, a rich legacy left behind. The Spirit blows through the forest.