Here is my tribute to John’s dad, and my second father, Charles C. Todd, Jr., who died on February 19. Thanks be to God for a long, well-lived life!
A Meditation on John 14:26, With Allusions to Romans 8:38-39 and 1 Corinthians 13
in Loving Memory of
Charles Cecil Todd, Jr.
Thursday, February 25, 2016
In one way or another, all of us know Charlie, Dad, and Granddaddy as a teacher. And being an insatiable learner was one thing that made Dad a good teacher. Dad was constantly reading, exploring, and expanding his horizons. Sometimes he literally went on adventures, traveling as far away as China. But even more, he went on wonderful adventures with his mind.
Those adventures began in early childhood. They are what sustained Dad during his fourth grade year when he spent the whole year in bed in a body cast, healing from a painful hip condition. We can’t imagine Charlie being that still, but he was. His mother looked after him, and she taught him at home that year so he could keep up with his peers. His classmates sent him a book about insects. I am sure he devoured it. Lifelong interests were born in those early years, in rocks and stamp collecting, jokes and stories, facts and trivia about all the U.S. presidents, and so much more. Dad learned a lot through scouting, working his way through many badges on the way to the Eagle Scout award. Learning how to fix things started in those years, too. When he was working on things, Dad would remark, “I grew up in an old house.”
Dad loved to explore the magic of numbers and words. He tried to learn a new word every day. He knew Shakespeare well enough to catch lots of phrases that he applied to the game of basketball: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair!” (Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 1.) And he collected them all in a book: Shakespeare: The Bard and the Ball.
Dad liked to commit things to memory. One time he was memorizing the list of the seven deadly sins—those sins that give birth to all the rest. He used an acronym to remember them all, and he wrote it up on the board in the kitchen: SLAP EGG it read. That stands for sloth, lust, anger, pride, envy, gluttony, and greed. SLAP EGG. So we learned them, too, and now you know what they are.
Dad taught himself so many things. He taught himself to play the violin and ukulele. Every Christmas he brought out the violin and played carols.
Still hungry to learn something new, Dad was nearly always taking one class or another: from art classes to writing workshops.
Charlie was ready to try new things even if he wasn’t all that good at them. He tried to learn some French, Mom’s–Alice’s–other language and her professional interest, because he loved to learn, but especially because he loved her. He didn’t get very good at it. But that was okay.
We are proud of way Dad built his interest in learning and teaching into a public career in education, and of his tireless advocacy for other educators, and of the way he taught through writing and speaking. Educating the public about the perils of the state lottery was one of his big themes.
But most of us here knew Dad as a teacher in other ways. He taught his children to tie their shoes, as John said, and to read, and to play chess. He taught them to look at the sky and know the constellations. He taught son Chuck how to play poker. He taught them so much more. Dad even taught his own mother to play chess, and he taught his father how to drive a car.
Dad wanted so much for us all to believe in ourselves and succeed. One tribute we received online put it this way, “It was impossible to spend five minutes with Charlie without getting the feeling that you were smarter, nicer, and more worthwhile than you thought you were.”
But Dad taught some of his most powerful lessons by example. Here is one that made a deep impression: Dad and his sister Martha
looked after their frail parents for many, many years. That meant patiently doing daily, humble tasks, and at the end, it meant going to the nursing home day after day after day. This went on for years. The lesson was, “Look after the people you love.” That means practicing patience, kindness, forbearance, and hopefulness. It means persisting and persevering because above all, love never ends. In love, Dad looked after us, his family. Charlie looked after his friends. He looked after his colleagues. And he looked after the schoolchildren of Virginia. We are so grateful.
It is so hard to believe he is gone. As Karen, Chuck’s wife, put it, Charlie seemed indestructible. We will miss his knowledgeable, faithful, funny presence. It really, really hurts not to be able to go ask Dad about things any more, and to know his voice is not there to remind us of things to remember and think about. It just hurts.
In our scripture lesson from John, on the night before Jesus died, Jesus was trying to help his disciples, his students, get ready for the time when they couldn’t see him and hear him, and touch him directly any more. He knew how much his death would hurt them, and he knew they would struggle to find their way forward. They still needed someone to look after them.
Jesus promised, “I’m not leaving you alone to fend for yourself. I am sending you the Advocate, the Helper, the Counselor, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will be your teacher. The Holy Spirit will help you remember what I said.” Jesus kept that promise. He sent another teacher, a loving teacher that is here to stay. As the Apostle Paul pointed out, there is nothing in all creation that can take this loving One away from us.
The same Holy Spirit who came to sustain Jesus’ disciples is still here with us, looking after us, loving us and loving all people more than we can ever imagine. That Spirit is still here to help us, to comfort, guide, and teach us, and to remind us of what is most important: love. Life is about love. And in love, we faithfully look after one another.
Beloved, there are many more things to learn, and many more things we will learn. God is going to help us. God is going to teach us.
And most of all, God is going to love us and look after us, always.