But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. – James 1:10
My son Zac and my Dad share the same birthday. I had finished this issue’s original editorial that opened with Zac — but today I’m compelled to write about Dad.
My Dad is 86 and has severe Alzheimer’s disease. For many years He has been a close friend, teacher (for better or worse) and Christian advisor. I know how much he loved me and cared for me. Earlier this year he started shaking my hand when we met. In May he reassured me, “You’re my son, I can never forget you.” Three months later — today — he has forgotten who I am. I knew today would come, I’ve acknowledged that he’s been dying each day for the past few years, but I still feel strangely numb.
Even though this may read like an obituary in parts, when I consider his actions and ambition and the trajectory of his life, it is also an object lesson.
Dad is the eldest of five children. When he did post-graduate studies in Obstetrics and Gynaecology in the UK he sent most of his income back to his parents in Hong Kong — and he was already married. He gained fellowships in Surgery and O&G. He then became the youngest professor in the University of Malaya at the time. He embraced Medicine with a passion that was only rivalled (and ultimately exceeded) by his love and zeal for spreading the gospel and discipling believers — those two career paths, with decades of temporal overlap, define his life. His work, more than anything else, defined him. I feel privileged to have witnessed Dad in action when I assisted him in the operating theatre — but I wouldn’t have liked to have been a medical student under him or an examinee being grilled by him.
However, passion can breed pride. I believe a subtle pride in what he knew, what he learnt, what he became — and his often black-and-white dogmatism — would be a potential stumbling block in years to come, especially in how he related to some of those with whom he served. He was so consumed by work and his family that he had no time (and perhaps no inclination) to develop a hobby or cultivate friendships that might sustain him in his retirement, and possibly may have kept dementia symptoms at bay for a bit longer. In his twenties he played Chinese chess blindfolded — and won. He regularly preached sermons without notes. One of Dad’s favourite words was ‘priority’. It was ironic that he didn’t prioritise a long-term plan for his future — possibly because he had been blessed in so many ways already, and I certainly praise God for that. It’s also deeply ironic that what he prized so highly — his intellect — disappeared more quickly than his physical health. Even when he was relatively alert, he refused to do crosswords that he used to enjoy daily (perhaps because he knew he could no longer do them as well as before) and he eventually stopped reading. It was like he had done his dash and all that was left was to bide his time here until God called him home.
Who knows what has passed through Dad’s amyloid-addled brain in recent years, but I wonder if he learnt humility. I hope that, in some way, he has enjoyed a richer communion with God at a time when his communication with the rest of us was progressively slipping. Is this a tough lesson, or just the wilting of a wild flower? Only God knows, He is in control.
Readers, I implore you to make the most of your time with those you love and care about. You never know who (or whose mind) will be taken away, sometimes when you least expect, at other times when there’s plenty of warning but the thought that “There’ll still be time…” sneaks in to undermine your best intentions. I don’t just refer to salvation; even the day-to-day things, the simple gestures of affection, kindness and thoughtfulness need to be treasured.
Let’s listen carefully to the Judge and appreciate how He wants us to change and develop. Let’s endeavour to judge and correct ourselves while there’s still time — to let God mould us in this life as He sees fit, even as welong for our life with Himin eternity.