Day 2 – Thirty Days of Thanks, 2014

Day 2 – 5 thankful lessons about grace amidst physical frustration
thank you, Earl

Trying to work in advance a little bit, I thought I had chosen five blessings to highlight today, reminders of the gifts that God offers every day. Then came a phone call, one I almost missed as dinner ended. It was about Earl… just hearing his first name makes me smile. But tonight was not all smiles.

My first visit to the Marion Area MS support group was in the summer of 2004, right before I started using a cane, actually. After my 1997 diagnosis, life schedules hadn’t allowed for me to attend these gatherings, but with children a little older and evening responsibilities adjusted, I was finally able to come. Several people were in attendance, men and women, some with canes or wheelchairs, some without, all with a story. Some of these individuals became part of my life for a short time, but a few continue to make an impression.

One gentleman I met that first night was Earl. There was something about Earl that made him hard to forget. Perhaps it was the somewhat gruff, matter-of-fact way he approached life. Or maybe it was the way he worked to include everybody, to ask questions that made people feel like they mattered. Or as I continued to come, maybe it was because he was the one person who was always there. Over the next decade, I came to see more reasons this man was not-to-be-forgotten. In his sixties when we first met, Earl may have been in a wheelchair, but his strength of character was much more memorable than his uncooperative legs.

Earl Pettigrew passed away two nights ago, and I just found out this evening. As I reflect on my memories of this special fellow, I’d like to share five lessons Earl helped teach, whether he meant to or not.

5 lessons from Earl

1. There is something special about everybody. He had a way of singling out something special or unique about anybody. Anyone, and he wouldn’t let them forget it.

2. A good thing about February is Girl Scout cookies – especially Samoas. These were Earl’s favorites, and he made sure to purchase some from my daughters each year.

Ask for help if you need, and there is no need be apologetic, just appreciative. People would help remove his wheelchair from his car at each meeting or meal we had, and Earl always made it work.

Disability is no reason to give up on life. The fact that Earl was still moving, was finding ways to continue on, spoke volumes.

5. Even when one is in a wheelchair, life can still be full. There are limitations… don’t pretend there aren’t, but find ways to overcome some of those.

I didn’t meet Earl until after his military time, his 30+ years at the factory, his times with his cars, his years of growing children… but I am incredibly thankful for the times I got to share with him during this final season of his life. I don’t know any who had the pleasure of meeting Earl who doesn’t smile when his name is mentioned. His funeral is tomorrow, and I hope his family and friends will have joy as they share special memories together. I recall conversations where he and I spoke about our faith, and I am smiling as I think of Earl’s legs finally being cooperative, as he stands up at last and gives a hearty laugh.