I attended a funeral yesterday, for my dear stepfather, Richard Janes, who passed away on June 8th. As a former Marine, he was present at the DMZ toward the end of the Korean War when prisoner exchanges were taking place. But what was most profound was his relationship with God as a Nazarene-Christian. It was this relationship that made him a humble man, and gave him the love and courage to care for my birth mother after a serious stroke that spelled the end to their intimate married life.
On the way home, I pondered on Dick’s life, his dedication to my mother, Betty, which carried him through nearly twelve years of daily visits to her bedside in a convalescent hospital. During this period, he lived in the Veterans Home in Yountville, California, and would drive twenty-two miles over the hills to Sonoma to see Betty daily. Soon, the care home moved Betty closer to Dick, to their Napa facility, where the trip encompassed a mere eight miles. And when Dick’s health failed, and he could no longer drive a motor vehicle, he would board public transportation to carry him to his beloved.
Recently, Dick became too ill to stay in the Veterans Home, and so he was hospitalized at Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa, close to Betty’s care home, no longer able to see her except for the two times she was trucked by wheelchair in the facility’s bus to sit at his bedside. For two people who survived a lot of personal tragedy, these two wonderful lovers were, as my sister characterized, “totally crazy about each other.” When Dick passed away, he took that light with him, and I know Betty keenly feels her loss.
On the return trip home, while passing through Oakland on highway 880, I happened to see two birds on the highway verge. One, a night heron, poised with its squat body at the edge of a clump of brush, and the other, a much taller and more elegant great egret, was stalking the grass at the rise of the slope. All this, while vehicles rolled past, slowed by a big-rig stall that clogged the already packed commuter traffic. There they hunted, totally oblivious to our world, focused on the creatures in the grass, or hiding in the shadows of the brush. It was a beautiful tribute to how the world moves on, barely aware of our human creations, and without a need for our technological marvels.
Later, still meditating, I saw a freeway onramp, its supports ringed by brown. At first I was puzzled, thinking that Caltrans had made a concrete repair to all of the huge supports of the structure; strange, too, because it was a new onramp. But as I observed in that flash of time, I noticed little birds, mud swallows that had built their colonies high above the ground, safe from sharp-shinned hawks and snakes. And once again, without a care for humanity, as they live their swift lives on curved wings, carrying insects back to the nests for their chicks. Beyond the freeway onramp in that one glimpse, was a marsh, and I began to imagine it filled with more life—red-winged blackbirds and avocets, fat coots and Canada geese, and soaring ravens, life moving forward, despite our best efforts at “running in place.”
I don’t use that term lightly. It’s an affliction of our modern world, a frantic kind of energy that makes us believe that we’re getting somewhere, when truthfully, we’re getting nowhere fast. We’ve lost the primal ability to stop and listen, to think of others, instead of focusing on ourselves. The silent disease is caused by a disconnect from nature that kills the heart slowly, and before you know it, life’s past in the blink of an eye.
We have to pause ourselves, to see the little birds, and the marsh, to listen to the wind, and smell the dirt.
I think Richard Janes did this masterfully. He appreciated the small things every day, from Yountville to Betty, and back again. He was kind and welcoming to me, and to my family, even though I hadn’t grown up as Betty’s daughter. And I wasn’t even a prodigal in the sense of one who has squandered a father’s riches, and returned destitute.
Still, my life was enriched by getting to know Dick and Betty. I now have two younger sisters I never knew. I have an elder brother, and I have extended family, that were never mine, but somehow, belong to me the way I belong to them.
Thanks, Dick, for loving Betty.
Richard Dale Janes—August 7th, 1931 to June 8th, 2012.