This was written by my uncle Ray Nickel, who passed away in his sleep December 26, 2008.
Have you ever gone to the farm, a fair, or a zoo and watched those white-pearl eggs in the incubator under the glowing lamps and waited for a yellow fluff of a chick while it pecked from within its brittle prison, jiggling it almost imperceptively and you could hardly wait till it broke free so you could see it wet and new to the world wobbling on its new found legs and peeping its new song? Or, have you ever cut up a potato tuber, careful to get at least two to three eyes per section, buried it eyes-up beneath the crumbly prepared musty earth in faith that it would sprout and in a few weeks you would harvest some white cobblers, or smooth reds or Idaho baking russets?
I am always impatient for new life. Spring can never some too soon; flowers take too long to bloom; babies take too long to be born. I can hardly resist nature’s course and have, at times, helped the petals open on a flower or rushed planting in the spring. I’ve even helped those chicks hatch by picking away at the crack of an egg and I’ve even stolen out to the garden and carefully scraped away the dirt from where I planted those potatoes to find little marble-like new potatoes amazingly growing out of that old, shriveling, rotting, slice of potato.
I recently stood beside the shell of a man lying in his casket. They did their best to make him “look natural,” but the shell was cracked, the slice of humanity was shrunken, destroyed by those frightening, out-of-control cells. In these last few months he was pecking away at this mortal life longing for the eternal. His body was shriveling while he longed for new robes of righteousness.
He said, “It’s steep.”
“What’s steep?” I asked, “The pillows too high under your head?”
“No, the last mile is so steep, but I see beautiful places in my dreams. I didn’t want to come back. It was filled with azure skies and looked like the majestic mountains of Colombia.”
He often said, “What am I going to do?” as the shell crumbled or “Help me!” as the flesh dissipated. But then it dawned on me that he didn’t want help to stay but help to go, not help to remain but help to step over. He said, “I accept what God has for me. I don’t want to fail Him in the end and complain.” He beat back the doubts of the enemy. He examined his life and cleared his conscience of all things. He exaulted in the truths of the Bible. He comforted in the old hymns in the night. He grasped the hands of friends. He prayed with all who visited. He prophesied to his children as Jacob of old. He encouraged many in the faith. He wept for those who didn’t believe. He gave his last advice. He set his house in order. He was chipping away at the shell of mortality. The old was dying, the new was sprouting.
As I stared at his shell in the coffin, I realized he had taken refuge under the almighty wings. New fruit was forming in the lives left behind. Somewhere he was enjoying resurrection life because of death. Jesus’s death. Than man lying there…didn’t want me to weep for the death but celebrate the life. This man taught me how to live and now he had taught me how to die. That man was my father.