The Book

I gained some insight into the life of a friend some time ago.

I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with him, because our paths in life were so different, but there were those brief moments and days that we spent together, drawn into the same space by circumstances and life, that I will always remember.

Rev. Wayne Cardwell was strong, slim and athletic, with black eyes that sparkled. He was a man’s man, rugged and handsome, and he loved a good joke.  He had a laugh that would jolt a room, and it was a funny laugh.  His laugh would make you laugh, even if you didn’t have a clue as to what he was laughing about.  You could always tell when he was really comfortable with you, because he had this way of sitting, this way of leaning back, reclining in his seat, that completely put you at ease, and made you feel like he was enjoying being with you.

He was someone I could trust; I knew that he had my back.  He told it like it was, not a lot of sugarcoating, and he was just naturally gifted at everything he attempted to do, and successful in life.  He was a great golfer, much better than me, and when we played together, he always seemed to draw the best out of me.

He was a pastor who loved people, and a pastor who people loved, and he pulled the best out of his saints, too.  Loved and respected by his family, revered and looked up to in his local town; who wouldn’t want to follow in the footsteps of a man like that?

And then he was gone.

The cancer that ravaged his body wasn’t strong enough to break his will, and he remained positive and graceful until the end.  There were lots of tears, lots of questions, and a drastic shortage of clear answers.  He was man I will always remember, because he impacted my life directly in so many ways.

And, as I learned a few weeks ago, he was a man who would always remember me.

You see, he had this book.  Just a regular, small notebook with blank pages, the kind that would fit in your pocket.

In the book, (and he had many) he wrote things that he wanted to remember – events that shaped him, made him who he was.  The times he went fishing, who went fishing with him, and how many fish they caught.  Times spent with family and friends, scores from the games he played, people he met,  places he preached, trips he took.  Insights, wisdoms, nuggets gleaned from life and living – they all made the book.

He always carried this book with him, because he never knew when important things – things that he wanted to keep, to know, to remember – would happen.

In all the time that I knew him, which was over the course of years, I never knew about the book.  It was sort of a private thing, I suppose, and not the kind of thing a man like him would like to talk about.

His son Nick was getting married, and he asked me to sing at the wedding. It was there, during the ceremony, that I learned about the book.

Since he couldn’t be there, Nick had asked his dad’s best friend, Rev. Jim Corcoran, to perform the main part of the marriage ceremony.  Big shoes to fill, if you ask me.  But the Reverend was flawless.

He talked about the close friendship that he had held with Nick’s dad.  And he talked about the book.  It was pretty obvious that the book had inspired him.

“I’d spend a few days with your dad, and he was always scribbling something down in that book,” he said in a South Texas drawl. “I could go back weeks, months later and ask him where we’d been, or what we’d been doing on such and such a day, and he could always pull that book out and tell me.”

The Reverend held a black King James Bible in his left hand, and his right gripped the metal cane that was an ever-present fixture, propping up his leaning bulk.  The eighteen-wheeler wreck decades previous that demolished his lower body would have killed lesser men – but not Jim Corcoran.  He was a man who knew how to roll with the punches – and punch back.

“I musta bought a hundred of those little books,” he laughed, and the crowd, accomplices all, chuckled with him.  Discipline is a very human commodity, it seems, rather than a gift from God, and often in short supply. “But I never could make myself use it.  I’d fill in the first page or so, and then I’d leave it somewhere, or lose it, and have to go buy another one.  By then, I would’ve lost the fever to use it.  That fever didn’t come back around until I spent another day with your daddy.  Then, it was back to the store.  I’d have to get another one of those books.”

He paused to wipe tears magnified by the lenses of the too-big, old-man glasses that reflected the candlelight.  “I was standing by your dad’s hospital bed, and I asked him how many fish we’d caught the last time we went fishing.  He reached over, pulled out that book, flipped a few pages and told me.  Seems he had caught a few more than me on that day.” He choked on the words.

The audience was held rapt then, and it seemed no one breathed. They just sat and watched, captivated as the elder man remembered.  He shifted his weight back to the cane, held his Bible up, and poked at it with a thick finger. “Then he flipped over to the last page of the book, and pointed there, and I could see his handwritten scrawl. It was shaky, but recognizable.  It said: ‘I will live, and declare the glory of God. I will live.’

The sobs were muted and scattered, but from where I sat on the stage, they went up as a chorus from all across the building.  My heart broke.  I dropped my head, and I remembered.  I remembered his smile, the smooth way he moved, cat-like and agile. I remembered the way he would jut out his arm when he preached, working himself further into his suit jacket, comfortable, and in his element. I could see him then, so clear.

Some people just make an impact on you.

It was at this moment that I had the revelation. I raised my head and looked at Nick. He was lost in the words of the preacher.

I had made the book.

Somewhere in his volumes, my name was written down.  Somewhere, in ink and paper, he had made a record of his time spent with me. The meals we had shared.  The golf scores. The campmeetings.  The breakfast we had together in his home after a rally the night before.  That meal had been the last time I saw him, the last time I spent with him.

This man who had meant so much to me, who had always been an example and someone I looked up to, had, in his recollections of life, also thought of me.

He had thought of me, and the times we shared.  He had taken the time to write down those moments with me, and well as moments with so many others, so that he would not forget them.  He wanted to remember.

I guess that was one of the things that made him such an incredible man. You see, everybody wants to be remembered.  We all have that desire in us that others would remember our names, and who we are.

And that’s the kind of man that Rev. Wayne Cardwell was.  He was a man that thought of others before himself. When we were all sitting there, fighting remorse, holding back tears, and remembering him, he let all of us know that he remembered us, too.  From beyond this life, he reminded us all of the kind of man that he was by the words that he had written down in his book.

It brought me joy of an inexplicable kind when I realized that my name was written down in his book.  I still smile when I think about it. Our deeds together were recorded, and some day, I might have the opportunity to look back on them. I might have the opportunity to remember.

But I’ve found a greater joy than my name being in his book.  I’ve found joy in knowing that his name was in the book.  The book that records the deeds of men, both base and noble.  His name will be there, among peasants and kings. There beside their names in a great Book of Life.  And he inspired me to make sure my name is there, as well.

Rev. Wayne Cardwell was a man who kept his promises.

‘I will live, and declare the glory of God. I will live.’

I’m better because I knew him. I’m glad he made the book.

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