The Most Important Days
My Uncle Roger passed away just a few minutes ago. Or, in the vernacular he would have preferred, he was Promoted to Glory. For those few minutes I have contemplated the passing a great man and his influence in so many ways on my life. And here I have shared with you a few thoughts about my uncle, Major(R) Roger Bowman.
Mark Twain once said that the two most important days in a persons life are the day they were born, and the day they find out why they were born.
My uncle, like his brother (my dad) was born at a time of great uncertainty and struggle. To parents who were not rich in anything except faith. Faith in their God and their belief that God had a plan for them and their children.
On the day he was born, there was, no doubt, a great deal of joy and pride. Joy that Grandma would be able to put the name she had jotted down so many months before on the little boy she now held. Pride in a strong and beautiful son. It was, no doubt, an important and memorable day.
Over the years, my Uncle and his family would intersect with our family, always tightly knit, and yet always a product of their generation. Slightly standoffish, slightly strict. But always with a sense of devotion and love, and a belief that family, at the end of the day, is the strong bond that overcomes all else.
When I consider the words of Mark Twain, I realize that there is really not one, singular day when a person realizes the reason why they came into the world. For my Uncle Roger, there were many days, and many, many reasons.
The influence he had on his younger brother, my own father, was far deeper than I had ever realized. When my Grandpa passed away in 2000, I had a chance to – for really the first time with understanding – watch the two of them interact as siblings. I saw in my own dad the eyes of the younger brother looking up still, looking for leadership and direction, now that the last parent was laid to rest. Roger’s reason for being born is found in his influence on my own Dad.
In my Aunt Cecile, Roger found the love of his youth. The stories I would hear from Grandpa and Grandma of his travels to go and see her were filled with the humor of watching young people in love, combined with the concern of parents worried about motorcycle gangs. In Cecile, his reason would find love and loyalty, passion and understanding.
In his own children, my cousins, RuthAnn, Mike and Robb, I saw through the years as they took lessons that sometimes were hard, sometimes easy, but lessons that sank in and influenced them throughout their lives. More than that, those lessons were expanded and applied beyond what had been taught, until ever new ground and opportunities were found and experienced together. His reason for being born, is found in them.
In their children, Roger’s life still echoes, as his influence reaches the next generation. You can see it in their pride and family connections. In their voices and in their songs. His reason is seen in them.
In my own life, there were days when Roger’s influence and even advice, made those days, ones for which he had born. To this day, one of the single most important pieces of wisdom I ever received, came from my Uncle. It was one of those days where we were all sharing our frustrations and irritations about life and work. I was feeling particularly down about it all and wondered aloud if I personally was going to far in my passion and my frustration. My uncle, who had and would go on to know work frustrations far beyond what I could ever experience or would know, told me simply, “Davy, we criticize most loudly that which we care most about.” (For the record, My Uncle and Aunt called my Davy well into adulthood. It was a family thing and there was a specific reason for it. You may not do it, so don’t even try.) That is wisdom that has carried me far and influences me today. It influences those whom I have shared that with. and it will continue to do so for many, many years to come. Roger’s reason still goes on.
I have a close affinity for my cousin, Robb, which really isn’t the point of this. But after they had moved to Denver in the early 1970’s I had been very happy to my cousins close by. And so, it was not without some child’s understanding that when I was told that they were leaving to go to San Francisco to seminary, I was a bit upset. On a Sunday afternoon, I asked my Uncle point blank why they had to leave.
What I remember of his answer wasn’t the specific words or even the actual reason. What I recall most is that there was no hesitation, no attempt to “dumb it down” for me, no ignoring me or just pushing me away and giving me a child’s brush off. He and I sat down an a bench and he talked to me for a few minutes without anything other than making sure that I understood that he didn’t want his kids to leave either. But that some things are more important than what we just want. And that if he was going to honest about his life, it was going to be doing the hard things that mattered.
I have never told anyone about that talk before, mainly because it was so out of character for him. And yet, I realize now that it really wasn’t. It was just another reason for him to have been born. To share with me a couple of life lessons when I was ready for them.
And so, Roger’s reason, exists in me as well.
At some point in 1936, my Grandmother took a small leather notebook, not unlike the one I carry today and for pretty much the same reasons, and she began to jot down thoughts and ideas, song lyrics and notes to remind herself of things. On one page is her expression of ever-loving devotion to her darling Herb. And nearby is another page with a list of names.
The page has scratch marks and what appears to be some math, but at the top of the list of names is written:
And for all the other days, on which the reasons for why he was born would come to pass; and for the days that will see lessons and influence that will be passed on over and again. Making each and every day that has come and gone, and all those yet to be, the most important day in Rogers life.