God’s Applause

On 4 March 2007 at Community Church in Amherst, Ohio, John Randall delivered an eloquent speech he had spent weeks editing and perfecting. Entitled “The Perfect Storm,” John talked about having gone to the doctor’s office on 4 February 2005 with a cold but leaving with a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer. The day after having been diagnosed, he said, he initiated what would become a beloved and widely-traveled blog in which he chronicled what it is like to be thrust into the center of one of God’s perfect storms.

In these blogs, John wrote with candor and grace about the emotional, psychological, physical, and spiritual challenges he had faced. He also wrote of the unexpected gifts that are bestowed during such a storm. The chief among them, he said, was the opportunity to stand firm in one’s faith and to “go out” singing the praises of our Creator.

The other magnificent gift John would receive because of making this tragic journey through cancer is the woman he made his wife on 6 October 2006, which was his sixtieth birthday.

Five months previous, my friend, Dawn, had come to hear John as he spoke to a different church group about matters of faith in the face of terminal illness. She fell in love at first sight.

We are left to ponder: if he had not been sick, would they have met? When I mused on this hypothetical John just smiled and said it was all simply part of God’s plan.

Several hundred people were in the Community Church audience to hear John’s speech, including some of his former students. John wrestled with a severely diminished lung capacity to deliver his beautifully crafted speech. He always protested that he was not a poet, but Dawn and I disagreed, for his view of the world and everything in it was invariably poetic. This speech proved us correct.

I was sitting beside Dawn during John’s speech. I kept stealing glances at my friend. Like everyone else in the room, Dawn was spellbound. Unable to take her eyes off him, her admiration and adoration showed plainly on her face. From the podium, he found the strength he needed to carry on every time he looked at her.

When John concluded his remarks, the audience warmly applauded the courage and convictions of this amazing man. Pride, co-mingled with profound sadness, washed over me. Blinking back tears, I glanced away from John to the windows at my left.

It was cold but clear when we had entered the church earlier that morning. Now, however, big, fluffy snowflakes were twirling and swirling through the air, drawing intricate curlicues, as if the snowflakes were dancing elaborate minuets . . . as if they were in no hurry to arrive at their destination . . .

And the thought occurred to me: This dance in the sky is God’s applause.

I came home and wrote this poem for John.