I felt my watch vibrate and glanced down at the words on the screen. My attention focused as I scrolled through the details of the message and then fumbled through my nearby bag, searching for a tissue to dry my eyes. I couldn’t believe the news:
My dear friend Dan had passed away.
Brother Dan, as he was known, was 92 years old — in his case, 92 years young; he could have passed for more than a decade younger. Dan always wore a rascally smile, like he was up to no good (in the best possible way). Call it cliché, but the man’s eyes twinkled.
Brother Dan was tall and strong, a former high school coach of multiple sports, the kind of man you want mentoring your child. His family displayed photos of him coaching basketball, softball, track, and football teams at the visitation the day before his funeral. I’m curious how many lives he influenced, the generations of students who looked up to him and became better athletes (and better humans) because of his guidance. For decades’ worth of Sundays, he served as sideline coach, long-distance spectator, and vocal cheerleader for my family through conversations in the church fellowship hall.
When our oldest son consistently finished second to the same opponent in the two-mile at his high school track meets, Brother Dan mapped out a strategy that enabled him to win his final race. He encouraged people to do their best by playing to their strengths. Brother Dan didn’t change our son physically, but he changed his mindset. Later our son would apply that lesson to the way he played baseball too.
Most of my children have run cross country and track and Brother Dan always asked about their races and followed their seasons. For years, he inquired on a regular basis if I was writing a Western novel for him (always with the characteristic twinkle in his eye); he obviously loved them. It became an ongoing joke. I hated to tell him no, but I don’t think he ever expected my answer to be yes. When he learned I was speaking at a women’s event last month, he asked about my preparations beforehand and then followed up to see how it went after the fact.
As one of my daughters remarked on the way to Brother Dan’s funeral, “He was always so invested in us.”
Brother Dan was an exceptional man, not because of his talent or skills — although he had them — but because he cared for people so deeply. He invested himself in others, encouraged them, and helped them be the best they could be. He was a faithful man of God and used the gifts God gave him to serve others.
As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
1 Peter 4:10 (NKJV)
We all have intrinsic, divine worth and the power to impact the unique subset of humanity that’s been put in our path. Each life bears a unique imprint. No one will encounter the same people in the same places as you will. When we live generously, selflessly helping those around us, we bless and are blessed in return.
We all need coaches and cheerleaders in our lives. People who care about us. People who encourage us. People who bring out our best. People who make us feel seen, the way Brother Dan did. Life is about more than what we gain: it’s in what we give, who we serve, and where (and in whom) we invest our time.
Service to self can leave us empty, but serving others will both fill us and fulfill us. Within the sphere of each of our simple, singular lives, we can make the world a better place.