This picture is of my father at 23. The back of it says, “Letter writing time, photo 25 sec exposure Feb 51. The clock is the one I stole at the carpenter shop. The clock is broke and it isn’t the right time.” It may be my favorite picture of him. I’m sitting here writing, staring at him writing more than 67 years ago.
At the time, my father was in the Army and stationed in Georgia. He was writing a letter back home to my mother in Illinois. Since that day, he’s lived most of the rest of his life. Now at 91, he resides at the Veterans’ Nursing Home in Anna, Illinois. He’s mentally alert and ambulatory, but his eyesight is not good. Macular degeneration has made this time of life hard for him—as has the loss of my mother in 2014 after 62 years of marriage. He misses her terribly. Always active, always doing something, he loved to read, particularly the newspaper, The Economist, or history books. With only a high school education, he frequently won when we played Trivial Pursuit. Most of his adult working life working was spent at coal mines. Today, I’m thinking back on his life and how he made a difference and how I had an opportunity to tell him that recently.
This last spring, my brother signed him up to take a trip to Washington D.C. The Veterans’ Honor Flight of Southern Illinois runs direct flights from Marion Williamson County Airport to Washington D.C., taking elderly veterans to see the war memorials and Arlington Cemetery. The experience pays tribute to the veterans’ service to our country, and I support their efforts in this worthy cause.
A month or two before the flight, I received an invitation to write a letter to my father that he would read—or have read to him—on the return flight. So, I did. After his return, he shared it with others at the Veterans’ Home, and I had a request to allow it to be shared to a broader audience, so I share it with you now.
I’m so glad that you went on this trip to Washington D.C., and I’m thankful for those who are making it possible. I hope that you had a good time, and I’d like to let you know how much we appreciate what you’ve done for our family.
When I thought about you and your life’s work, I thought about this parable and about a news story that you had told me about because all of these relate to sowing seeds.
Mark 4:26-27 [The Message] “Then Jesus said, “God’s kingdom is like seed thrown on a field by a man who then goes to bed and forgets about it. The seed sprouts and grows—he has no idea how it happens. The earth does it all without his help: first a green stem of grass, then a bud, then the ripened grain. When the grain is fully formed, he reaps—harvest time!”
A couple of years ago, you told me about archeologists finding seeds that were thousands of years old and planting them, and they sprouted. I thought that story was interesting, so I looked up what they did, and here is what I found. Some of this, I’m sure you already know.
The Dead Sea lies east of Jerusalem and more than 1200 feet below sea level. It is many times saltier than the ocean, so it can’t support marine life. The summers are hot and dry. On the western shore of this sea is a mesa called Masada. The mesa has steep sides that are 300 to 1300 feet above the valleys around it. It’s hard to get to, so it made a good place for a fortress. Herod the Great had a fortress at Masada beginning around 30 BC, but by 66 AD, a Jewish rebel group called the Sacarii occupied it. When the Romans were finally able to take it back in 73 AD, they found within the fortress of Masada over 960 dead men, women, and children, who had made a suicide pact and killed themselves or had been killed. They had also set fire to everything except the grain storage area.
In the 1960s, archeologists found the ancient grain at Masada. Carbon dating has shown that it comes from about 70 AD. Not until recently did scientists decide to see if the seed would sprout. Maybe no one believed that grain sitting in a storage area located in a hot desert below sea level could possibly survive. But it did. An ancient variety of date palm is now growing from one of the seeds, and scientists are propagating it. I wish I could tell one of the Sacarii or the Romans who stored the grain 2000 years ago that we are today growing a living palm from their stored seed. I would like to see their expressions when they heard about this time-traveling seed. They gathered the seed, and 2000 years later, scientists sowed it. And, as Mark says in the scripture, “The seed sprouts and grows—[the sower] has no idea how it happens.” The sower doesn’t make it happen and may not even be there for the harvest.
As parents and family members, our deeds are seeds. Your life was spent in duty to your country and your family. We all know that you made a big difference in our lives. Like seeds, your many words and actions will sprout and grow in us for the rest of our lives, and like the verse from Mark says, you will likely neither know the gratitude nor reap the harvest of your sowing.
I learned how our deeds are seeds when I began teaching chemistry and writing classes. Every fall I spend a semester with a class teaching them organic chemistry. I never know what happens to most of my students. But occasionally, one lets me know that he got into pharmacy school, or she was accepted into a graduate school, or he is entering the coast guard, and they thank me for the part I played in their lives. And from these contacts, I know that there are many more that I’ll never know about.
These deeds that are sowing seeds are part our giving with no expectation of receiving and are at the heart of a life well lived. And I would like you to know how much we, your family, appreciate you and how you served our country and our family. We will continue to harvest from your sowing for generations to come. Thank you!
We love you!