December 21, 2018

Voices Calling – The End of Days

Category: News — Ira @ 5:33 pm

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The darkness moved there in the house like something silent, palpable —
a spirit breathing… — speaking to him its silent and intolerable prophecy
of flight, of darkness and the storm, moving about him constantly, prowling
about the edges of his life, ever beside him, with him, in him, whispering…

—Thomas Wolfe
___________________

Well, it’s that time of year again. When the end comes rolling around. And you look back on how it was, and how it went. Another day older and deeper in debt, as the old song goes. Maybe not quite like that. But still. The grind of life goes on. And now twilight falls on one more year. The end of days for that year. At such a time, it’s good to stop and reflect on things a bit. I’ve often thought. The tides of everyday life would be mildly astonishing, if not so common. Those tides of life roll on.

I’m alive. Starting at the most basic point, there. If you aren’t alive, nothing else can follow. And at my age, simply staying alive for one more year is worth noting. And cheering a bit. It was only a few years back when I landed in the hospital with a malfunctioning heart. The low spot, health-wise, in pretty much all my life. It was nip and tuck for a while. I could easily have slipped away. I didn’t. I stayed. After that little incident, it means something to me, to simply be alive. All of it means a lot more. The colors, the smells, the tastes, you can never absorb any of them deeply enough. Life is a fragile and beautiful thing.

It’s Christmas. This year, I’m feeling the spirit of the season a little more than usual. It’s OK, I guess. I’m not a grinch. I don’t mind the holiday. But I don’t get too tore up about it. The cold came early this year. And Christmas was always cold. Maybe that’s why it’s even in my head at all.

I remember my brother Nathan telling me, years ago. One of the most vivid memories he had of growing up, in both Aylmer and Bloomfield. “I was always cold,” he said. “In the wintertime, it was always so, so cold.” I thought about it, when he told me. Yeah, it’s true. It was always cold. But you just didn’t think about it, because that’s how it was. You didn’t know anything else. In the winter, you soaked up short bursts of warmth in places like Mom’s kitchen, where the wood-fired cookstove was always hot, the coffeepot always simmering. You were warm right that moment. But then you stepped outside, out to do the chores or go cut wood or do whatever it was that needed to be done. And it got cold at night in the house, too, after the fire died down. Bitterly cold. That’s when you snuggled into your bed under big thick, fluffy feather blankets. Some of that was just plain old hard living, too. Cold and hard.

I’m still dry. Astoundingly enough, I am. That was probably the biggest accomplishment in my world in 2018. The first full calendar year of living free from the alcohol. And it wasn’t that hard, well, not after I got used to it. I never white-knuckled much, except during the first few months, last year. I always tell people how it went. I was driving Big Blue back then. And the hardest thing that happened was when I was going home from work. My truck wanted to turn left, to Vinola’s for a drink. I had to force it to turn right, to go home. That took some white-knuckling, more than a few times, to make the right turn. Seems like that’s about the only time Big Blue was a slow learner in all the ten years I drove that truck. But eventually it sank in, got through. No more socializing at the bar. No more whiskey. These days, I don’t even think about it anymore, that left turn, going home. Of course, I’m driving Amish Black now, and the Jeep never knew anything else. There were no bad habits to break it from.

And speaking of Amish Black, this was the year of the Jeep. Late last year, I spun Big Blue on the ice like a top. There was that little crunching incident with a railroad sign, followed by a nice dent and a tail light that popped out like a cork pops from a champagne bottle. Mere months later, I had ditched Big Blue for another vehicle. Callous and disloyal, that was, to my faithful truck that had never known another owner. I shrug. All roads are broken. It was time. Now I drive the black Jeep. I’m loving it. I get waves from the pretty Amish girls walking along the backcountry roads. It was startling at first, until I realized. The pretty Amish girls are not waving at this gray-haired, bearded man. They’re waving at the black hard top Jeep. But this gray-haired, bearded man will take those waves with great delight and a smile every time. I’m loving the Jeep overall, except if I ever get another one, it will have four doors. A classic Jeep is very small. You can’t haul much in it, and it’s a bit of an issue for my Amish friends to clamor into the back seat. You gotta flip the passenger’s seat forward, then slide it way up. All to make room to get in. Another set of doors back there would be just fine with me, I decided, not long after me and Amish Black were getting acquainted. No hurry, of course. I’m good for now. Just whenever it happens, if it ever does.

I’m still doing OMAD. One Meal a Day. Of all the lifestyle changes I’ve made, this one may be the most significant. More so than giving up the whiskey, even, I think. Not saying it was harder to do. Not at all. I wouldn’t want to do what it took to give up drinking very often. It was hard. And it still hits hard, once in a while, how much I’d love a drink. Still, again. This consistent, day after day OMAD feels great and gives me a lot of energy that had been missing for many years. I’m convinced of it. It’s been almost strange, how easy it is to have one meal a day. It’s way easier than quitting drinking. The long-term benefits are better. Because you can drink, when you’re doing OMAD. For that one meal, in your window, there’s no rule against it. I see it all the time in the online fasting groups, posts with pictures of food and wine and food and whiskey. I don’t do the wine or whiskey, because my best choice is to abstain. It’s not a moral issue for me, and never was. It’s simply a choice.

This was the year of Vincennes University. One of the more beautiful memories of the year, a journey I traveled in my head over and over again since last spring. The VU people were a class act. They treated me like a mini rock star. Not that I’d know what a rock star feels like. I can imagine it might be something like my time at Vincennes. The people I met, the old friends, and the friends I made, all of it was just first class all the way. I’d do a trip like that again, any time.

And then, of course, there was that little excursion up to Aylmer to see Dad, back in June. When I asked the Lord to let me see Dad together with his great-great grandson, Jaylon Eicher. Just for a moment, so I could record it. It needed to be done, I argued. Something told me this was my last and only shot, that there would be no other chance. I knew there was some urgency going on. It was hard to walk calm into a situation like that. There was so much that might go wrong. I remember thinking. God, it’s out of my hands. You do what You want. For whatever reason, events unfolded as I had hoped they would. As I’d prayed for. And I got that picture for future generations to treasure. That whole trip up there seemed half surreal even as it was unfolding. When I left, we shook hands in farewell, me and Dad. Somehow, it seemed that this might be the last time I saw him when he was alert. He was old. I mean, you could tell. He meandered in his speech. But he was there. I didn’t know, of course, that this would be the last time. It had never been before. But I thought about it, that it might well be. It was.

It all came at us abruptly late last summer. I don’t remember exact dates. Not long after my trip up there. They were making the usual plans for Dad, to get him down to Pine Craft later in the fall. But first, they were taking him to Kansas for a while. To the little apartment my sister Rhoda and her husband Marvin fixed up for him. Well, it’s a nice guest quarters for any visitors who show up. But they built it a few summers ago, so Dad could come out and stay. Now, they were ready to host him again. The trip from Aylmer to Kansas was all planned, the driver scheduled. And the day before, the very day before they wanted to leave, Dad spiraled down and got real sick. I don’t think there were any instinctive choices going on with Dad, that he didn’t want to leave. I think it just happened, that it was so close. A few more days, and he would have been bogged down on the road, or stuck in Kansas.

He went downhill pretty fast. Just sank without a sound, right before their eyes. He didn’t know people anymore, much of the time. He didn’t know where he was. He couldn’t hold a coherent conversation. He simply wasn’t well in any sense, mentally. None of it is all that surprising, I guess. That’s what you’d figure would happen at some point when you get real old.

They took him in to see the doctor, of course. Still. What’s any doctor going to do with an old man like that? Poke and prod around a little. Figure out what’s going on. Prescribe some pills. And somewhere in all those checkups, Dad was diagnosed with full blown prostate cancer. There is no treatment, other than making him as comfortable as possible. But at his age, I don’t know if the cancer will affect him much. I don’t think it will. I guess we’ll see.

Early last week was my father’s birthday. The record now shows that David L. Wagler is ninety-seven years old. And that record now stands. Dad is the oldest of any people in his family. He held on longer than anyone else, so far. The last few months have been hard. He sank fast, mentally. He doesn’t know much of what’s going on, anymore. It’s an uneasy new reality for the family in some ways, just to know that he reached that door. He’s a tough man, of strong blood. You don’t get to ninety-seven unless you’re tough.

A strange thing happened one day last summer. After I’d been up there and left. Soon after that. I don’t know all the little details that would be told here had I witnessed this first hand. I didn’t, I couldn’t have. It was a warm day last summer, up in the Aylmer Amish community, there where Dad is. Around mid-morning, a buggy pulled up the long drive leading to the farm where my father lives in his little Daudy house. My cousin, Simon Wagler, son of Dad’s older brother, Abner, slapped the reins and clucked to the horse. Move along, now.

Simon was always a character in my childhood world. About my sister Magdalena’s age, he grew up with my older siblings. He was ordained a preacher there in Aylmer, a year or so after the great orator, Elmo Stoll, got hit by the lot. They were both ordained in our house, right there on the north end of our dining room where the benches were set up. I witnessed them both in those moments. I remember how Simon sobbed hard and deep, but briefly, then went silent as the bishop pronounced him a minister for life. He never was well-known, like Elmo was. An extraordinarily successful businessman, he was content to labor as a preacher in relative obscurity. I have good memories of hearing his sermons. He always stopped on time, a good habit that will make all Amish children everywhere overlook a host of other faults and failures in any preacher who practices it. Thus, I have kindly thoughts of my cousin from the time I heard him in my childhood.

In recent years, Simon has been a faithful companion to my father, Uncle Dave. He comes around and takes Dad to wherever it is he wants to go. On errands and such. Dad always has business at the schoolhouse phone, too. No one knows for sure what that business is, but that’s OK. This particular morning, they had a few stops over on the north side. Simon helped Dad into the buggy and got him settled on the seat. Then he picked up the reins and clucked to the horse again. They were off. My father and his nephew, heading out in the buggy on a sunny summer day.

I’m not sure where all they went that morning. It’s not that important, I guess. They trundled along, they stopped here, and they stopped there. At some point, Simon swung over past the school house on the corner beside the old Herrfort farm. That schoolhouse has been around for a generation, now. It wasn’t there when I lived in Aylmer as a child. It got built a few years after my family moved out. Simon tied up the horse, and they walked slowly inside. It went like it did, I suppose. Dad doesn’t hear well these days. It’s tough, for him to hold a conversation over the phone. After a while, he was done. They headed west a mile, then turned south onto one of the rare gravel roads that’s still around up there. Almost all their roads are paved. This gravel road led past the graveyard.

Rosemary told me why that roads stays graveled. Just randomly, in a conversation, a few years back, she told me. The Township wanted to pave it. But then they discovered. The graves were too close to the road, so they couldn’t make the setback requirements. The inefficiency of government. Just pave the road anyway. But no. The setbacks. They decided to just let that one stretch stay graveled, from crossing corner to crossing corner. And I remember Rosemary telling me. “It’s just alright that the road stays graveled, if that’s what they decided. We don’t need to think we’re too good for graveled roads.” I remember agreeing with her. Yes, it’s certainly OK to have a graveled road around.

The buggy rolled along on silent wheels. Rubber tires. The clopping of the horse is all you hear in an Aylmer buggy, unless it’s a rattletrap. They drove along, Simon and Dad. They didn’t talk a lot. I guess there isn’t much to say, sometimes. On over the old railroad tracks, all overgrown now, where the fast trains screamed as they whistled through, many decades ago. Then past the woods on the east side. They approached the graveyard, the only plot of ground where the Aylmer Amish have ever buried their dead.

I remember hearing how that graveyard got to be where it is. My brother Jesse always told the story. He claims to have seen it firsthand, or at least he was told right after it happened. The community fathers staked out the west schoolhouse, at that time the only schoolhouse, from a corner of the Homer Graber farm, close to the center of the settlement, there on the main drag. This was back in the mid-1950s, probably. Homer would have been willing to part with another half-acre or so, attached to the school grounds. That would have been the graveyard. But then someone asked, all concerned. Won’t that traumatize the schoolchildren, to be out there playing right next to where people are buried? I attended that school, and I don’t think it would have been that big a deal. But I can see the point. Whoever made the objection convinced the others. And so the men of Aylmer went to the next crossroad west, then north a quarter mile. There, they bought an acre of land on the west side of the road from a very accommodating English farmer. And there is where the Aylmer Amish are returned to the earth after they leave this vale of tears. That’s how it happened, why they rest in that particular spot.

Dad and Simon reached the tree line on the north side. The graveyard is rimmed by trees on three sides. Only the east is open, to the road. Simon looked at Dad. My father was stirring in his seat. Looking off to the right. Straining, as if to hear. The graveyard came at them, then they were passing. Simon looked at the silent stones standing guard over the spots where someone lay sleeping below. The buggy rolled quietly on rubber-tired wheels. Simon thought of his own parents, buried there side by side. Abner and Katie. It’s been years. Katie went first. Then Abner, a few years later.

Dad spoke. “There,” he said, motioning toward the graves. “There they are resting.” His voice caught, and he stopped. Tears rolled unchecked down his seamed and wrinkled face. He didn’t sob. But the tears kept coming. “They are calling me. I can hear them,” he said. “I can hear them calling me.”

The moment passed, then. The buggy rolled on. A few minutes later, they arrived at Dad’s little house. His face was still wet with tears. Simon helped him down and walked inside with him. A lot of times, an event like that doesn’t hit you right when it’s happening. It’s later, when you think about it. Simon thought about it, as he drove home alone. Pondered it in his heart, what Uncle Dave had said about hearing the voices calling. It was worth pondering, such a thing as that. And Simon told the story to our family, then.

It’s just that, I suppose. A story. A thing that happened. But I have thought about it a lot since I heard it told. What did Dad mean? What voices did he hear? Was it just an Amish thing? It sure seems like an Amish story. That’s about the only culture where you’ll hear such a thing as that told as truth. Well, maybe in some of the Plain Mennonites, too. It’s fascinating and intriguing to me, at the same time.

The Amish always have stories, as time slips on and death comes calling. Stories. There were stories when Mom passed. Stories of angels singing and dreams and visions and ghostly voices calling. Stories of what others saw and others heard. Not the dying one. But this time, this scene, this came from Dad himself. The man who is making the journey. That’s a little different.

Moving on, then. There have been recent developments. Dad had a major stroke last Friday afternoon, four days after his 97th birthday. I didn’t hear about it until Sunday morning, more than a day later. That’s just how things work, sometimes. And I was told. He is bedridden, he can’t talk plain, and he mostly can’t eat. That was right at first, that he couldn’t eat. He has stabilized some. My brother Jesse and my sisters Rachel and Rhoda traveled up to Aylmer to be there for a few days and to help in any way they can. He is as comfortable as they can make him, there at home in his little Daudy house, resting where Mom passed away four years ago.

I absorbed the news. Told my friends. I called and left a message for Esther, my Amish friend, and her family. She and her husband David met Dad decades ago, when they lived in Indiana. I hang out with them often on Saturday mornings, drinking strong black coffee. When I went up to see Dad last summer, she sent along a few of his books for him to sign. We both figured this would be the last chance for such a thing. It was. Esther called back later that day, after I left the message. We chatted.

She asked me. “Has anyone told your father he can leave? It’s important, when someone’s dying like that, to tell them it’s OK to go. Did anyone?” I shook my head. Not that I’m aware of, no one did. I don’t know. Why would you tell a tough old man it’s alright to leave? She was adamant. “Someone needs to tell him. Often, old people like that hold on for way longer than they should, because no one has taken the time to tell them. You need to make sure someone does.” I don’t know, I grumbled again. You know how tough and cantankerous Dad can be. But I conceded, then. OK. If I get up there before he passes, I’ll tell him myself. It’s alright to let go.

In the last blog, I wrapped up with a little story about Levi, my Amish contractor friend. I guess I’ll close with Levi again. He stopped one afternoon this week and sat down at my desk with me to work on a material list. He’s remodeling a big old barn that the owner wants to convert to a wedding venue. We chatted as we figured out his quote. I thanked him for the Roasht he snuck out from the last wedding he attended last month. He kept it in the freezer at home until he got it over to me one day last week. I’ll probably feast on that this weekend, I told him.

We chatted right along. I poured us some hot coffee. And I told Levi about Dad’s stroke. He’s not in good shape. He’s stabilized some, but he’s barely eating, if at all. We’re praying that he can leave. There’s nothing left for him here. Levi listened, looking sympathetic. His Mom passed a month or two ago, after a long illness. I repeated. I hope Dad can leave in peace very soon. There’s nothing left for him here. But still, life is life. You care for the living as long as they remain.

Levi nodded. “I understand completely,” he said. “It was the same way with Mom. We were praying she could just leave. When she went downhill, she went fast. We buried her and we grieved her. But in reality, it was also a big relief. And I could not believe how the stress just rolled away. You don’t realize the stress of caring for someone like that until you don’t have to anymore.”

I hear that, I said. I know there’s a lot of stress in caring for Dad at home every day. That’s one of the reasons I’m thinking about heading up there soon, to where he is. Me and my Jeep might go on a little trip north and west right after Christmas. To go see my father, or go bury him. Maybe both. I’ll see how things shake out, I guess.

And thus, the year draws to a close at a level of high uncertainty. It looks like there will be one more journey down one more broken road. A murky fog lurks all around. It’s OK, though. You just keep walking through the patches of light that you can see, until you get to where you’re going. And so I will. I am grateful for life, and all that life is. Even for those parts where there is suffering on every side, for no discernible reason. Either the Lord rules, or He doesn’t.

I know He does.

********************************************
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my readers.

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(14 Comments) »

  1. Greetings again. Thank you so much for your taking the time and effort to write and send to us these wonderful, thoughtful and refreshing stories of the events of your life and those you love. It is always a most blessed and delightful sight on the email to see another notification that there is mail at irawagler.com. May you know more deeply and joyfully the presence of the Lord at this wonderful season of the year and truly experience a most happy new year.

    Comment by Jim Eshelman — December 21, 2018 @ 7:35 pm

  2. Ira,
    Thank you for caring enough to keep writing about the things that matter in life, our Faith, our Family, and our Friends. You manage to distill all the trivia in this world down to all that is meaningful. You bless so many, again thank you. May our Lord carry your father gently into the eternal kingdom.

    Comment by Jerilyn C. Henderson — December 21, 2018 @ 9:27 pm

  3. This year has been a good one, Ira. You have stayed on the wagon, found your way to walk with food, and are bringing us great words of blog wisdom. Most of all, you aren’t questioning your faith but following God’s path and teaching us all fine lessons along the way. The peace you write about is such a precious gift. I hope it continues throughout the new year. All we can ask for is to accept and follow God’s will for us and our family. And to be grateful for each sweet moment to savor accordingly. And when the rain and storms come, as they will, to face them and look for the life lessons that bring us full circle.

    Comment by Pam Moore — December 21, 2018 @ 9:34 pm

  4. My prayers are with you and your family during this difficult time.

    Comment by Cynthia — December 21, 2018 @ 11:56 pm

  5. “EACH DAY IS A GIFT-THAT’S WHY WE CALL IT THE PRESENT!”

    Comment by RUTH MAXWELL — December 22, 2018 @ 1:19 am

  6. The lion of the Amish nation who so gallantly made his mark in life’s journey and weathering many storms, has finally reached a peaceful end!

    While in his prime his very presence commanded respect. His views in the church and otherwise were rarely contested. His influence reached the Amish communities throughout the states and Canada.

    May his soul rest in peace.

    Comment by Ben Girod — December 22, 2018 @ 2:35 am

  7. May your father go peacefully, and soon. Your story is like a tapestry, with many strands of memory woven in.

    Can’t help but notice that Big Blue and Amish Black sound a bit like horses in your telling.

    Comment by forsythia — December 22, 2018 @ 8:11 am

  8. I wonder what your dad heard as he passed the graveyard.

    Do you suppose he heard the song that is always sung at Amish burials (at least in this area)?:

    “Gute Nacht, ihr meine Lieben; Gute Nacht, ihr Herzensfreund; Gute Nacht, die sich betrüben, Und aus Lieb für mich jetz weint…”

    “Good night my love;
    Good night my beloved friend;
    Good night to you who grieve,
    And out of love for me are now weeping…”

    I have helped sing that song a dozen times at graveyards as the departed is lowered into the earth. A couple of years ago it dawned on me as we sang: This is not me saying goodby to the departed! The departed one is talking to US! To ME! He is trying to comfort ME!- “Don’t grieve. We’ll be together soon. Forever!”

    I wonder if your dad heard them (your mom?) calling, “Don’t grieve. We’ll be together soon. For eternity.”

    Comment by John Schmid — December 22, 2018 @ 8:46 am

  9. I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your book. It had a profound effect on me. I think of it now and that’s not easy to say as I’m a hopeless memory loser. I could relate to so much of what you exposed about yourself. Nail biting honesty. I write that way in my journal…but mostly do so, so I can remember the day, the life, the feelings I’m having. If I didn’t, I’d be lost to what was that day, etc. I appreciate your honesty, your words, the life you’ve let us know about.

    My son was raised modern Mennonite. Many Amish relatives in Indiana. His last name is Graber. Do have a messy memorable day. Enjoy. Sincerely, Patricia Groshong.

    Comment by Patricia Groshong — December 22, 2018 @ 8:47 am

  10. Beautiful blog. You have had a wonderful journey in 2018. May God bless your dad in his journey to his final destination…when that comes. Merry Christmas, Ira.

    Comment by Luann — December 22, 2018 @ 10:40 am

  11. I am so thankful that you are dry!! Without alcohol!! Two close to me were alcoholics. Such hurt, pain, and cost. Jesus and His Holy Spirit give me the peace and joy that fill me!!! Glory to His Holy Name.

    Comment by Pearl Lapp — December 25, 2018 @ 12:49 pm

  12. keep on with your fabulous stories , you touch so many lives, and keep on enjoying those lovely waves from the Amish gals , keep smiling and waving back , you get love , and you keep on giving love , I look forward to your next blog !! Georgia

    Comment by Edward Pearson — December 26, 2018 @ 11:42 am

  13. I just sat down with a cup of coffee and read your post. This month has been difficult, as I lost my mom on December 4th at 93. She was in tremendous pain, at the end, and I felt tremendous guilt that I was actually relieved when she passed. I had cared for her for nine years and I would do it all again. But, as Levi expressed, I prayed for God to take her to stop her suffering. It was important for me to read that others felt this too. When we lose a parent, it’s almost as if we return to our five year old self. It hurts. A lot. Even when our parents are in their nineties. Peace to you and your family.

    Comment by Meg — December 27, 2018 @ 11:34 am

  14. As always, you give a modest and touching account of the year’s end. I always admire the way you honor your (sometimes difficult) father in your writing. I feel like I knew him. May you and he be blessed and at peace in this coming year. Thank you also for your faith. It also comforts me.

    Comment by sherida yoder — December 30, 2018 @ 1:41 pm

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