I went to my college roommate’s funeral this past Saturday. As you might expect, we were about the same age. And while I am moving towards retirement, I am hoping for a bunch more years to enjoy life. My college roommate was robbed of those years by a terrible disease—Lewy Body dementia. In the five years since his diagnosis, I was able to visit with him repeatedly because we lived only a couple hours apart. Even during the pandemic, we could visit using Zoom. It eliminated the four hour roundtrip, but it was not as good as being in person, because my roommate loved to walk, which is hard to do, even when you have Zoom on the phone. In person, we would walk in his neighborhood, in the halls of the nursing facility where he lived towards the end. We would walk and talk and always, at the end, we would pray.
My college roommate was an engineer. He was also a musician. During college he played guitar, leading music for a Christian fellowship group that I attended on campus. He also would play at other times, particularly, as I remembered it, the music of James Taylor. Indeed, during a part of our sophomore year, he would regularly exclaim, “Hey babe, the sky’s on fire,” which was a line in James Taylor’s song, “Carolina in My Mind.” It seemed totally random when he would say it, but as we began our regular visiting these past five years, I mentioned this to him, along with the rest of the lyrics in that verse. “There ain’t no doubt in no one’s mind that love’s the finest thing around. Whisper something soft and kind. Hey, babe, the sky’s on fire.” He liked that larger reference.
My last visit with him was on Labor Day. He had just been admitted to a hospice care facility. He had fallen several times, and things were rough, but his wife, also a college friend, was there faithfully as the saints who work in hospice did all that they could to ease his pain and his agitation. Before I left, they managed to get him calmer. And as he slept, I found a recording on my phone of James Taylor singing, “Carolina in My Mind,” which I played for him. “It’s true,” I whispered to him as I sat by his bedside. “Love’s the finest thing around, and love is all around you.” Later that week, his wife texted me that he had died, peacefully.
Sometimes, love hurts. My college roommate’s family is hurting now because of how much they loved him. And yet, I think that it is still true that love’s the finest thing around, beautiful and painful, but either way, hey, babe, the sky’s on fire.
–Pastor Don Steele