“So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”-Psalm 90:12
Outside the Retreat, the pitter-patter of raindrops falls gently upon the rooftop. The sound is soothing to one’s soul and adds a sense of tranquility to the ambiance within. Inside, the fire warms my body, removing the damp chill from the outside. Reflectively, I sip on the hot drink while peering into the red-hot coals. The flames dance around in their anguished throttled roar while the occasional pop and hiss remind you that the scene before you is real. My mind drifts, like the puffs of smoke up the chimney, thinking of friends and colleagues of my former days.
Many faces come and go in the swirl of steam up the chimney, like their lives, several now gone, passed on. Each individual remains with me, each with their own story, each with a remnant of who they were left behind with my own being. My good friend, Vance Dunn, who recently passed, came to mind, as he so often does. He would have dearly loved the opportunity to sit with me by the fire and discuss the many thoughts that would bounce into our heads as we supped on our warm brews. On one particular road trip, whereby we were headed to training as part of our Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) affiliation, we spent the several hour drive to the mountains doing just that; talking in-depth about everything and anything that popped into the stream of our conscious thought. One specific conversation that returned to me this morning was our animated discussion about vocabulary and the word “regardless” versus “irregardless.”
Vance loved to latch onto something and then to pull it back into the conversation, again and again. His observation, and probably the meaning behind the reason for which the word that percolated to the top of our discussion that day, was how many in the world of academia often try to sound more important than they are by the use of grammar that is either incorrect or absurdly unnecessary; thus, the word “irregardless.” Many scholars maintain there is no such word as irregardless because regardless already means “without regard.” Vance had an extreme disdain for professors or teachers who spoke down to their students.
The Apostle Paul would write, “For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.” Paul’s intention was to say more simply, “Don’t try to pretend to be something you’re not.”
Now Vance had every right with which to speak in such terms. Having been a scientist at NASA, he dealt with and helped train many of their engineers and researchers over the years. He had worked with many a person that felt their position in life was enough to warrant them respect simply by their title. Yet, he would share with me that those who walked humbly in that regard had far more impact on those with whom they dealt than the former. Vance’s intellect was far beyond what I could hope to ever achieve. In essence, he was, at least to me, a true genius. He never tried to be superior when we talked, but rather, would humor me in meaningful terms so that we would traverse life from one end of the spectrum to the other, regardless of who was listening. Once we started, when time allowed, we would literally carry on with our own geekish comical relief, much to the disdain of those that were within earshot, for hours. He conveyed to me on this day how “irregardless” wasn’t really a real word, but rather something people would utter when they wanted to sound more intellectual. So, in our effectual dialogue, we would carry on with statements like “Regardless of how irregardless something truly is, you still can’t say irregardless unless you’re holding something up to be something it isn’t, regardless of its actual meaning,” and then we would roll with laughter until tears would fill our eyes.
Paul would go on to write, “But let every man prove his own work and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.”
Vance proved his merit by serving his country both in the Army and then working for the Aeronautical Space Agency. He would spend his career working for NASA and eventually retire with his family to Chatham County, North Carolina, where he and I would eventually meet. He often substitute taught in the school system, filling in for those roles many would pass. Vance’s favorite predicament was walking into a High School Calculus class and picking up wherever the teacher left off. Mind you, this was years after he had touched a mathematical formula. He would always tell me, “You can always solve anything if you work it back to the root.” After studying for and eventually passing the NC High School Math Praxis myself, his words would come back to me, again and again, regardless if we hadn’t seen each other in years.
During our conversations of faith, I never quite understood where Vance stood exactly. As with most intellects, he preferred to remain aloof about his belief in God. Yet, when it came down to it, I had the sense that he honestly believed but was more skeptical of religion as a whole. As Ravi Zacharias put it, “We are not Christians because of the abominations or denominations we belong to, but whether you know Jesus Christ in your heart.” It was in these theological interactions that I sometimes felt as if Vance was questioning me not only for something to pursue intellectually but that he was actually becoming aware of seeing someone moved by the Holy Spirit. In our walk of faith, we should never fear witnessing to anyone regardless of their station in life. As Paul would convey, “Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.”
A few months ago, before the wheels fell off my life, I was to speak at a church back in Chatham County. It was a wonderful blessing in and of itself, to be asked to share a sermon with the Cumnock Union Church, but was equally rewarding in seeing so many brother and sisters in Christ once more. It was during this trip that God spoke to me and said that I should stop by and see my friend Vance and his family before heading home. So, after sharing fellowship with the brethren at Cumnock, I then turned off the highway and found myself winding through the little streets of Goldston, and eventually pulling into the driveway of Vance’s family’s farm. There, one last time I sat with my old friend and shared in past experiences. Denise, his daughter, brought him out to the couch to sit and visit with me and it was then that I was struck with the reality of what time and illness had done to my friend. He had suffered in his last years from advancing Dementia and Alzheimer’s diseases. We tried to revive a minuscule portion of days gone by, but in the end, faith in God was all that remained, for my dear friend was not the man he once was. The horrific disease had taken a brilliant mind away from the shell of the man that sat before me. Inside, my heart was sobbing, but outwardly, I was thanking God for this short time together. We said goodbye, and part of me realized that this may be the last.
There had been plans to return for some other possible speaking engagements, but once the trials and afflictions began, there was nothing to do but try to survive, and as such, those events fell by the wayside.
Not long ago, I saw Denise’s post of Vance’s passing, and with it, my heart dropped. Gone was the last chance to say one more goodbye. Gone was that last chance to jokingly poke fun of so many that held themselves in such high regard, regardless if they deserved it or not. But in the end, I know that Vance found God as inspiring as he had hoped, for in the end, when he crossed into that eternal home, he found intellect beyond his own and enough time to laugh and share with those minds that would match his own.
Tonight, I am thankful for all the lives that have crossed my path in life, and especially people like my friend Vance. May we never forget them and let us pray that we carry their legacy with us, sharing with all a part of who they were for others to carry on.
Thanks be to God.
“If any of you
let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and
it shall be given him.”-James 1:5
 Galations 6:3
 Galations 6:4
 Galations 6:5