Wayne and Mary Beth
We were supposed to retire and write a book together. It was going to be called Black and White: A Friendship, and it would have alternating chapters in two voices. My chapters would be the serious ones, since I am terminally thoughtful. Wayne’s were to be the lighthearted ones. For as long as I’ve known him, he has joked about writing a book called My Life with the White Peoples, and it was to have chapters called “Hair” and “And They Call Us Cannibals.”
But Wayne’s gift was the spoken word—he filled the room with laughter and light. I don’t think he ever had plans to actually write that book, but watching his eyes dance as he talked about it was a delight to me. And when I started talking seriously about co-authoring a book, his wife Mary Beth, one of my best friends who brought him to me as a bonus friend, said, “Well good luck with that. He can’t sit down long enough to write a book.”
I met Wayne when I was 36, my daughter was six, and I was newly married to my husband. I had been offered a job as head of the English Department at Parkland Middle School, and I quickly became friends with his generous and gregarious wife, who was head of the Special Education Department. When she went home and told him she had a new friend named Estelene, he asked, “Is she a sister?”
No, I wasn’t an African-American sister, but in the twenty years we’ve known each other, Wayne and I became what he has variously called his “soul sister,” his “West Virginia sister,” and his “sister by faith.” We look at our Christian faith through very different lenses and accept each other’s views because we know each other’s hearts.
Yearning to get away from Washington’s sweltering summers, Mary Beth’s parents bought a small house on the Cacapon River near Berkeley Springs in West Virginia when she was a child. Magnanimous in sharing their blessings with others, Mary Beth and Wayne could hardly wait to show me their little piece of my home state, and they quickly invited us to spend a weekend with them and their son, who is two years older than my daughter. We rarely allowed my daughter sweets, so Wayne promptly invited her to go down to the little store at Stony Creek and bought her Sour Patch Kids and a bag of chips. I can still hear his belly laugh when she showed them off to me, already open and half-eaten.
And thus began a friendship that enriched my life in ways I can’t begin to describe in the space of a blog. For you to really know Wayne, I’ll have to write that book alone, and even then I don’t think I could begin to tell you what a profound impact he has had on my life. Our families have gone to the beach together nearly every spring break since we met, and when my husband and I bought a condo there, it became one of Wayne’s favorite places to spend a vacation, even though it didn’t have a television with a 60-inch screen.
Wayne told me just last week that he might just buy his own TV and bring it down to our place the next time he came. It wouldn’t be this year. Wayne was preparing to have knee surgery and in the tests leading up to the surgery, the doctors decided he had a small spot in his colon that needed to be taken care of first. And so I told him that my husband and I could use some time with just the two of us this year anyway because our jobs have given us so little time together in recent months. I worried that his feelings might be hurt, and he responded, “Estelene, what kind of a friend would I be if I didn’t understand that you need some time alone with your husband? You go on and enjoy yourself. And you make sure Matt gets lot of attention. You know what I mean?”
I laughed and thanked him for his great big heart. And then the conversation turned serious, and he told me he was scared about the surgery. He’s had some issues with his health and his heart in the last year. I brushed his concerns aside and told him that he was going to be fine—that we were going to be around for a long time together to write that book—but that I’d be praying for him all the time, just to be sure. In a reflective tone that I had been hearing a lot in recent weeks, he said, “I’ve given this to God, and I know that God’s got this.”
We texted yesterday morning, just before they took him down to run some tests because he’d been having difficulty breathing during the night. He told me he was tired and was going to rest. An hour or so later I texted his wife so that I wouldn’t wake him, and told her to tell him that I was praying for him and envisioning God’s healing hands hovering over him. I hit send, closed the door of my office, and bowed my head to pray that God really did have this. And even then, I didn’t believe the prayer was necessary. But in those hours when I had no idea his great big heart was failing, I offered a prayer in complete faith that Wayne would be okay.
When I shared this with another close friend today, he said to me, “I don’t talk much about religion or God, and for the most part I really don’t think it’s possible to say what God has in mind. What I believe and feel is . . . well, what I believe and feel. We are small and imperfect, and the mysteries of Heaven are unfathomable. I have faith and hope, and most times I have these in abundance.”
I think he’s probably right. But I believe the power of stories can help us glimpse the face of God. And I’m thankful that Wayne and I have travelled some chapters together.
Have you got this, God? “Yes,” I hear Wayne saying, “We’ve got this.”