It was their hands I always stared at with fascination. They were huge, rough hands with large cracked fingers. Fingers who had worked on so many cars, tractors and logging equipment that they were permanently webbed with the black lines left by their intended.
Those hands had worked the fields of Virginia and fought on the shores of lands far away. Lands that were a universe from the rolling, green hills of the Virginia Piedmont and the warm embrace of their sweethearts.
Every Sunday morning, at Bethany Christian, I would shake those grizzled paws that would envelope my soft unmarked hands. I would watch as those rough hands tenderly leaf through the onion-skin pages of their well-worn King James Bibles.
They were honest as a game of checkers and loved their family, community and the Lord. They even had honest straightforward names – Billy, Nathan, Warren, Joe and Leland.
These men worked hard, fought hard and worshiped God with a passion. They were all elders and deacons on our church board. They had earned that right and carried the responsibility on shoulders stooped by the life they had lived.
As a youngster, I would work in their hay fields and sawmills. They seemed to respect me for my willingness to work hard and not complain. They didn’t need to pull me aside, put their arms around my shoulder and give me advice. They didn’t criticize me at the drop of a hat or yell at me if I did something wrong. They would just look at me with their piercing eyes and smile. The smile seemed to say “He gets it. It won’t ever happen again.” It was those piercing eyes that had seen so much. Death of fellow soldiers, sun-killed crops and illness. Yet those eyes along with their ears always had the time to listen to an oafish, youngster who thought he knew it all.
They’re all gone now; gone to be with their beloved God. When I go back to visit, I can still feel their presence. As I drive by their farms, garages and church, I can see the influence their hands had on the community.
Their wives taught me how to love the Scripture and lean on the Lord. They taught me how to be a man.
The impact they had on my on life (and so many others) cannot be overstated. Any patience, kindness, listening and empathy I have were “given” to me by their example. When I lay down to sleep at night, I rewind the day’s events. Their warm, loving faces appear and are used as the yardstick by which I measure my day’s successes and failures.
“We are standing on the shoulders of giants” is a phrase that has been often used but is no more apt than in this case.