I n February of 1991, a river of tears poured down my nine-yearold face. My parents had flown to Canada in the wake of my greatgrandmother’s death and had left my three brothers and I under the care of my Texan grandparents. They buried Grandma Taylor on Valentine’s Day, which was fitting because she was a woman of ferocious love. But as I meditated on the events leading up to her death, it just seemed to me that the ferocity of death had the final word. We had prayed for Grandma’s cancer to go into remission, and it did. But cancer is like an apex predator. If it does leave, there is always the dread that it might return to finish the job it started. And return it did, leaving a hole in our hearts where Grandma Taylor’s once robust life resided.
I was having an anxiety attack. The imminence and omnipotence of death saturated my still developing and wildly over-analytical mind as my tears soaked down into my t-shirt. I suddenly came to the irrational conclusion that my parents were going to crash and die on their flight back home. My Grandma Jones tried to comfort me but to no avail. To be fair, she gave it the good grandma try, but I just wasn’t buying it. How could she guarantee me that death wasn’t lurking around the corner? And then, through the fog of saline eyes, I saw Grandpa walk into the room. He sat gently on the bed next to me, and with his smooth baritone voice, he spoke peace into the troubled waters of my soul. He asked me what had me so distraught, and as I fearfully articulated the vision of my parents dying in fiery ball of aviatic death, my trembling and undulating voice gave way to his Mufasa-like presence. He assured me that no such thing was going to happen, and as I asked him how he could be so sure, he simply said, “God will protect them.” That was the first and last time that Grandpa ever talked about God with me. Grandpa Jones wasn’t a religious man. He enjoyed the sanctuary of the outdoors, burning prickly pear and feeding cattle. He lived next door to the church we attended, but preferred listening to old Elvis gospel songs at home over attending our services. Grandpa smoked like a train and was more of a Marlboro man than any kind of minister…and that was why I believed him that day. Religious people say religious things because it’s proper. Grandpa had weighed religion and found it wanting. So, when he said God was going to protect my parents, I knew it was true. Almost six years later, cancer visited Grandpa Jones, and the chemotherapy reduced his body to a form I barely recognized. During that Christmas season, we prepared for his departure, and on the Twelfth Day of Christmas, Grandpa joined the angels.
Over 2,000 years ago, a group of shepherds were having an anxiety attack, not because of death, but because of life. An angel of the Lord had appeared to them, and they were greatly afraid. The Greek word describing their fear is where we get our word “phobia” from. It basically means they were about to crap their pants. The angel knowing this, told them to “fear not” because he had “good news of great joy for all people.” And after witnessing a massive choir of angels singing, these Marlboro men visited the Christ child and became the first evangelists to share the wonder of the savior and the reason to fear not…because sometimes what the earth really needs is earthy messengers, like my grandpa. God bless the Marlboro ministers.
PAUL MICHAEL JONES is an artist who currently dabbles in music, photography and creative writing.