Wednesday
Apr042007

« Caleb »

The world is torn apart. We need to connect. We need to be able to reach out and feel that there are people out there who care and love and feel like we do. We need to be able to feel that—regardless of what soil our feet are planted on—our hearts are in the same place. For the first time in the history, we have the tools to connect the entire world. The Internet may be a nifty place to buy your books online, but at its core, it is a way for ALL of us to connect to one another. Now, more than ever, we need to use any tools we have to heal our planet. Will it work? A better question is, "Will we try?"

—John Halcyon Styn, Hugnation.com

at lunch with caleb at 93 or so, with kelli and edCaleb Shikles had us to lunch and chatOne of the finest human beings I ever got the chance to know (even a bit of) died this week. Elroy "Caleb" Shikles was one of the most optimistic, energetic, inquisitive, and spiritually gifted men you could meet. He made everyone feel like a loved human being. He was a long time Baptist minister, but by the time I met him (probably when he was 93 or so), he had a soul that transcended all the spiritual divisions we make for ourselves. He was just an amazing human who loved all of life, spoke out for the great things, spoke against the things that bring pain and suffering. He had a brief but critical role working with Martin Luther King, Jr., opening the pulpit to King in his church in Colorado—only a generation removed from when his uncles had gone on lynching parties back in his home state of Missouri. Caleb had a website that his grandson created and maintained, and he used it the same way he lived his earthly life—to spread love and peace. He'd host a weekly online podcast/virtual gathering called "Hug Nation" where people would share their hugs—even if only for one's self—with others by video chat hookup. Caleb was not a member of our church, but each week, Kelli and I would see him walking up the rather steep hills that surround our church and separate the church from the retirement community where he lived. At the age of 94 or more, he was fit to hike that neighborhood, aided only with his ubiquitous walking stick. He came to our church because we have an adult forum that meets before the worship service, and this is where he regularly contributed most of the great wisdom I knew him to have. Name the topic and he had questions that probed deep, and an imagination that no matter how challenging the issue, humanity could work it out for the better. At his age, one might expect he could have been a knowitall with ideas set in stone, but he loved questions more than answers. Even after his many many years as a preacher, he still had to admit that with church membership declining overall, he could have spent his life "polishing the brass on a sinking ship." But this man was too great for any church. He preached with his every word, his every compliment and question, his every smile. At the retirement community he had, he extended his ministerial calling by having a small group of people who offered just to listen to the concerns of those who needed to talk.

For about two years I worked as a home delivered meals driver for local senior centers. I delivered to many older folks, many who were far younger than Caleb, even by 20 years his junior. I saw their homes, how they lived. I greeted some of them in their night robes or underwear. Some died during the course of my service. Some had distant families, or none at all. Some were cheerier than others, but some were morose. Caleb was not a client of mine since he lived in a full service community, but on a couple of occasions in the past year, he had me over to lunch. He was gregarious with everyone he met, even the busboys and servers. Every day he dressed up and looked dapper. He showed me his room, his "cocoon" as he called it, and it was bright and colorful. There were pictures of family and friends everywhere. There were cutouts from magazines and newspapers with articles or pictures that resonated in his mind. There were the letters and poems from various people. He even had a new computer and monitor, which he just marveled at because it helped him tap into even more interaction with people who were dear to him. His room was very much the room of a person who loved life, and planned to love it straight on out to the end. Even he was amazed at how long he had lived, and he thanked God for each new day which gave him a chance to keep doing all the great things he could. His calendar was full of lunch meetings, dinners, his webcast, and maybe even protest marches. Caleb was just so alive that he puts many who are just 1/3 his age to shame. As it was, he was nearly three times older than me, and all I could do is stand in awe of a guy who runs rings around me in so many ways. But he took it in stride and thanked the Lord by just keeping on keeping on.

Caleb Shikles renders the sentiment "only the good die young" utterly moot. What an amazing life, all 95 years of it.

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