As a pastor, I have observed that there are basically two types of people in this world. I am aware this is terrible over-simplification, but I believe there is some truth in it nonetheless.
There are those who get it, and those do don’t. There are people in this world who get it, I mean, they really get it. And it is obvious to everyone, in everything that they do, how they live, how they work and how they love, that they got it. And then there are those who do not a have a clue, and it is just as obvious.
There are those who get that all of life is grace. And there are those who don’t get it.
There are those who truly understand that life, this beautiful world, is but a free, unearned, undeserved gift of God’s amazing grace, and there are those who act as if God and the world owe them something.
Dan Wald got it. He really got it. And it was obvious to everyone.
Meister Eckhart once said: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you,’ it will be enough.”
Sadly, there are many people who go through their entire life without expressing in word or deed any real sense of gratitude. There are some who might pray for an hour on Sunday morning in church, and then there are those like Dan who live a life of prayer, who heed the words of the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing and to give thanks in every circumstance, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” And to the Ephesians: “always give thanks to God for everything.” And to the Colossians: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father.”
Dan got this. And because he got it, his family, his friends and this city are better for it. Here are seven observations that I believe indicate that Dan’s perpetual prayer was, “Thank you.”
- Gratitude instills a sense of personal responsibility.
With any gift comes responsibility. When I asked Evelyn, Ashley, Ryan, Courtney and Stephany: “When you remember your father and your husband, what is the one thing for which you are the most grateful?” They said they were most grateful for the way he taught them with his words and deeds personal responsibility. This is not surprising, because when one truly gets that all of life is a gift of grace, that they did nothing to earn their lives, did nothing to deserve to be born, I believe one tends to value life more appreciate it more, and to do whatever they can to make the most out of it, to be responsible with it, and to teach others to do the same.
- Gratitude instills a staunch work ethic.
Dan was fond of saying: “You don’t have to go to work. You get to go to work!”
People who fail to comprehend the grace of it all, that all is gift, often act as if the world or someone owes them something. So they go through life with a sense of entitlement. On the other hand, someone who gets the grace of it all, that all is gift, unearned and underserved, go through life possessing such a debt of gratitude that they are more than willing to work hard and give back whenever and however they can.
- Gratitude instills a profound curiosity.
When one is grateful for this mysterious gift we call life, one has such an appreciation for the world that they want to discover as much as they possibly can. They continually desire to gather more information, to study new ideas and to gravitate to new experiences.
This is perhaps why Dan taught himself to be a master multi-tasker. Dan could carry on a conversation with you, and you would never know that through his Bluetooth earbud he was also listening to a news report or a debate on talk radio or a ball game on the sports channel. He was always reading, forever learning, constantly figuring things out.
No one is surprised to learn that he owned one of the earliest computers. He calculated and figured on that thing, while watching a Razorback baseball game, at the same time listening to his weather radio and a Patsy Cline album all the while he conversed with Evelyn about what happened at the store that day.
His children thought he was crazy twenty years ago when he said told them said: “In twenty years we are all going to be carrying TVs in our pockets! And it will also be your phone, camera and computer!
Whatever needed to be fixed, Dan learned how to fix it. Dan was a self-made maker. He taught himself how to make or build anything from a Razorback rocking horse (I guess that is called a “rocking hog” though, wooden puzzles and all kinds of toys for his kids and grandchildren, to furniture, to even a house.
Because of his appreciation for life, because his desire to learn so great, his main concern the last time he was discharged from the hospital a couple of weeks ago was not so much about the possibility of having another stroke, but whether or not he was going to get home in time to watch Jeopardy!
- Gratitude instills kindness towards others
When one is grateful, when one knows they did not earn or deserve to be born, especially healthy and whole into a good family, one is especially considerate of those who are less fortunate. When he was younger, he had a friend who only had one hand, but who liked to shoot pool. So, to play fair, Dan taught himself to shoot pool with one hand.
When playing games with his children, he would always play with one hand or left-handed to even the playing field. I am not sure what he did, if anything, to even the field though with Dominoes or Chess.
This kindness he exhibited toward others made Dan a good listener, never quick to speak, always choosing his words carefully before speaking. He was respectful to all, to all creeds, all beliefs, all faiths, “to each his own,” he liked to say.
- Gratitude instills a love for life itself
Frederick Buechner has written: “if you really keep your eyes peeled to it and your ears open, if you really pay attention to it, even in the most limited situations, God through life itself has something to teach you.” “Taking your children to school. Kissing your wife goodbye. Eating lunch with a friend. Trying to do a decent day’s work. Hearing the rain patter against the window. There is no event so commonplace that God is not present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly.”
“If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say as a novelist and a preacher it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis, all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”
I believe this is exactly how Dan regarded his life. To Dan, vanilla soft-served ice cream on a cruise ship was divine. Blue Bell Moo Bars were holy. Evelyn said if she caught him eating more than one and ask, “Dan, how many are you going to eat?” He would reply: “As many as I want.”
Sweet tea, fresh sweet tea, in a paper cup, not plastic, was sacred. It’s all grace. Snow skiing, water skiing, scuba-diving, white water kayaking, bowling, classic country music, Ribs, brisket or pork in a smoker, sharing it his family—heavenly. Cooking enough for the neighbors— sanctified.
- Gratitude instills a love beyond self
After Joseph, his father, passed away in early 1997, Danny, keeping a promise he had made earlier to him, was selflessly committed to LaRue, his mother. When she had to stop driving in 2010, Danny would get her ever morning to take her to work. They would often go to lunch together. When her health began to worsen, and she had a difficult time supporting herself and walking, knowing that work was her life and she would be miserable at home, when Danny would walk with her into the shop, he would often carry her purse as she used a walker.
One day, Danny’s sister LaBeth took their mom shopping in NW Arkansas where she fell in love this orange purse. LaRue wanted to get it but she said, “I don’t know what Danny is going to think about having to carrying this orange purse for me!” Of course, Danny was honored to carry it.
Family always came first. Throughout his life, Dan continually put the needs of his family ahead of his own. As a Scout leader with Ryan from Tiger Cubs, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts all the way until he made Eagle Scout and then continuing for some time afterwards, Dan was always there teaching his children sacred values while teaching countless young men appreciation for God’s creation.
Evelyn called him a “Mr. Mom.” For when she worked as a nurse, he was happy as he could be to get the kids dressed, ready and to school. And he always made sure they had a hearty breakfast as they would always stop by Hardee’s or the doughnut shop along the way. Evelyn said that Dan never complained tying the girls’ ties and ponytails.
Even during his recent hospital stay, he was thinking about his children and grandchildren, concerned about them driving home, checking the APP on his phone to determine if they made it home safely, wondering if the grandkids were getting their ice cream.
- Gratitude instills a peace beyond understanding
When one understands that all of life is gift, one has nothing to complain about, nothing to be bitter, angry or resentful about. Even as a young 50-year old, diagnosed with multiple myeloma, Dan remained positive. Having to relocate to Little Rock for treatments everyday for 6 weeks, go through a stem cell transplant, chemotherapy, and the loss of hair, whatever trial Dan experienced, Dan remained hopeful and upbeat. He continued living, continued enjoying life, continued inhaling the grace of it all, scuba diving in Aruba, St. Thomas, and the Keys. And in 2008, he beat it that cancer.
And it seems to me that this was his same attitude during each recent stroke, calm, cool, collected and steadily positive. Without a hint of complaining in his voice, but with almost an excitement: “I am getting a little feeling back in my leg! Let’s do some rehab!”
There was never any complaining, no “woe is me.” No pity party.
Although we are not able to ask him how he remained so positive right up to the end, I believe he would respond with something like, “You know, I didn’t do anything to earn 64 minutes in this world, but I got 64 years. I have nothing to complain about.”
And, the good news is I believe Dan has taught all of us how to deal with our grief today.
Instead of complaining and being bitter over the years disease took from our father, grandfather, brother, husband and friend, Dan taught us to be grateful for every sacred minute we had with him. For each moment was underserved and unearned.
Thus, in what may seem very strange at first, each time the waves of grief come, we can stop and thank God for our grief. For grieving only means that we have lost someone wonderful—someone we did not deserve to have, a free gift of God’s amazing grace: “Thank you God, Daddy, for Danny, for Dan Wald.
And the good news is, even when the shadows of grief overwhelm us, saying that little prayer, “Thank You” will somehow, some miraculous way, be enough. Amen.