A man with a strange name who I never really knew yet was a fixture of my childhood all the same died the other day. I happened to be visiting my older brother when he got a call with the news. It brought us both back to long-ago memories of a time we shared. My brother and I had very different childhood experiences, but we both experienced the wide ocean of acceptance that flowed from their household.
I knew he was one of the first people I ever met who truly loved jogging. I knew him as the father of four sons and the husband of one the kindest people I’ve ever met. I knew he seemed gentle and maybe even wise. I know the news of his death has rippled through those of us who called our neighborhood in Walnut, California home.
His name was Aldie. His wife Donna told me things in brief moments I have never forgotten, all of them about me and how I had value. I haven’t talked to Aldie or Donna in decades, yet I’ve never once forgotten the symbol of my childhood they represented. They were the house on the corner of our street where every rowdy boy I knew ended up at some point. Their house was home to us all, without judgement or qualification. They simply opened their doors and made us all welcome and loved us, and in quiet moments I bet they told every single one of us that we had value. Even after my life ran off the rails I know they asked my brother about me and wished me well. I know had I showed up on their door to say hi, they’d welcome me with genuine kindness. I know how rare that is.
We often value so many of the wrong things about how a life spent. Since the time I was six years old and my best friend was one of their four sons, I have known only one true thing about Aldie and Donna: their house was a home and we were all welcome. Few things could be better to know about a person.
I can imagine the loss his family feels today. My prayers are with them. But Aldie’s family was one that rippled out in ways of goodness. I suspect it still does much as it did when I was blessed enough to be invited into their home. I have no doubt that their deep faith in God shaped how they received us. But they never felt the need to preach, and to the best of my knowledge never felt the need to judge. When they did, as we all do, they did so privately. I recall a few times of turmoil in their lives, as we all have, but I also recall how the peace of their home still felt so evident, sitting right there beside the pain.
I didn’t know it then, but that was an early lesson of grace.
Aldie and Donna had a sense of purpose and a sense of place. In a million small moments they changed a whole neighborhood of boys, most likely all for the better. That… is of incredible value and for which I will be a grateful beneficiary.