I have been thinking of him often lately, although I can’t really explain why.
Wayne and I met when I started graduate school, both a part of the Baptist Student Union on campus. We clicked instantly. As we got to know each other, all formality and things that were considered socially acceptable fell away. We just had fun.
There was a huge ramp in the dorm where I lived. Countless times Wayne would set me at the top of the ramp and let go of my wheelchair, then run in front of me and hold doors open as I gained speed so that I wouldn’t crash and burn. It was an odd mix of terror and exhilaration. And I loved every minute. Whee! To my recollection, we only crashed once. The shattered foot pedal on my wheelchair took a while to get fixed, but we considered that only a momentary setback.
Several times throughout the year, a group of us would go on weekend retreats. When everyone in the room stood up, I had a hard time because I could no longer see anything that was going on. Numerous times, once he realized what was happening, Wayne would leave where he was sitting and come to me. He would pull me up from my wheelchair to a standing position and then have me lean against him so I could see everything in the room. That couldn’t have been comfortable for him, but I never heard a word of complaint. Only after everyone else was seated would he gently get me back in my wheelchair and go back to his seat.
He spent a whole lot of time planning a surprise party for my 23rd birthday. He asked some of our mutual friends to do various things, like order food and get obnoxious noise makers. He even asked one of our friends to make a cake from scratch, but putting “Happy Birthday Lorraine” on the cake was a bit too ordinary. My birthday cake that year had the following message: Psalm 1:1a “Blessed is the man who does not walk…” Wayne knew how much I would appreciate that. I still smile every time I think about it.
As the months went by our late night conversations got more frequent. Sometimes over a basket of french fries at Country Kitchen, more often just over the phone. Wayne understood me, at a time in my life when it felt like many people did not. He even tried to teach me to drive (We would go to the Walmart parking lot at about 3 a.m., but that is a whole different story, for a different time) Our friendship continued long after I graduated and he married and started a family.
The phone rang late one night in November of 2000. His wife gave me the news. He had been having headaches for a few months and the one earlier that night was particularly intense. Several tests in the emergency room revealed a brain tumor. And he was starting radiation and chemotherapy immediately. I felt like I had swallowed a boulder, and couldn’t get rid of the weight. It was devastating.
The phone rang again a few days later and I was surprised to hear his voice. “Hey Lorraine, are you okay? I am kind of worried about you.”
It was just like him to worry about how I was handling this news when he was the one with the tumor. But that was Wayne.
“I just want to tell you that I went for my first session of radiation the other day and all I thought about from beginning to end was you. There has been so much you’ve had to overcome, but you always kick butt and come back stronger. I can fight this. Don’t worry.”
And fight he did. Ferociously.
Over the next few years, I witnessed him being a phenomenal father to three amazing kids, continue his job as foreman of a construction company, be active in his church, live each day to its fullest, and never lose his spunk. When he started to have seizures, he had to give up driving himself places. “You’re right Lorraine, not being able to drive and having to depend on other people to get you from place to place just bites.” He told me over the phone. That made me laugh. “Welcome to my world, Wayne,” I responded through a grin. His laughter was always a comfort to my heart.
Cancer won the battle in June of 2010, and he wanders into my head often. I can almost hear his voice, challenging me to seize the day and make the most of every moment. As I have been thinking of him over the last few weeks, I have wondered what he would suggest if he looked at my life these days. These are my guesses.
Wayne would want me to:
Write a book, maybe several.
Find reasons to laugh from my belly at least 1000 times a day.
Worry less and spend more time in joyful anticipation.
Be forgiving, because most conflict is about petty stuff that doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.
Help every person I could.
Listen and love with my whole heart.
Stand up for myself and what I want.
Fight for what I think is right. And keep fighting.
Take the time to smell the roses, and look for rainbows and silver linings any chance I get.
Follow all my dreams.
Work hard, even when I don’t feel like it.
Stop caring about what other people think and trust myself.
Be strong, curious, and courageous in the midst of adversity.
Most of that list seems pretty cliché, as I read it now, but then most people didn’t know Wayne and the content of all our late night conversations.
My last few months have not been easy, and there are still moments when I fear what changes the future might bring. But Wayne taught me that life is both precious and temporary. And I will keep going. I will do everything I do to the best of my ability.
Because he would never want me to sit quietly while everyone else stands.