Bill, whose best friend and brother’s body lay in the casket, took his place alongside the pallbearers as they hoisted the shiny black casket up on their shoulders. Tears welled up in his eyes, and rolled slowly down his cheeks, mixing with the rapidly falling snow. He looked out over the fellow mourners, smiling though his heart was in pain. His brother would have been quite surprised, although no one else was, at the great number of people who honored him with their attendance. One has to be truly loved, Bill thought, to get over 200 people out in freezing weather just to say goodbye.
At the gravesite, his niece Rose addressed the crowd. “Good morning and thank you for coming. I hope you can join me today in the remembrance of a wonderful life. This should not be a day for mourning, but rather the celebration of a graduation, from earth to heaven, for one who was an angel long before he actually entered the pearly gates. No longer is my father lying in that stuffy old house in pain. Instead he is now whole again, and walking hand in hand with mom in heaven.
“I will save you the fancy speech; his legacy of love speaks louder and truer than I ever could. My heart swells with thanks that I was fortunate enough to share him and his limitless love with you. As many of you also know, my father’s orphanage has fallen on difficult times, and we pray that the Lord will find a way to keep it open now that its greatest champion has left us, but that is a battle for another day. Dad was strong to the end, and although cancer destroyed his body; his mind was never compromised. I spoke to him only hours before he passed and he was at peace with God and creation. We will never know for sure why he was outside in the freezing cold that last night, but I believe that he knew his time had come, and went outside to say goodbye to the old oak tree that he planted 50 years ago."
“Jacob, one of the wonderful teachers from the School for the Disabled, has asked to speak this morning. Jacob, would you like to come up?”
Jacob wheeled his chair to the front of the assembly. “Many of you don’t know me, but I want you to know that I will miss Mr. John as much as anyone here today. My parents could not handle the fact that I was crippled and sick when I was a child. Mr. John took me under his wing from the moment we met at the school for the disabled where he taught for over forty years. I arrived as a broken spirited, unloved homeless child, but graduated a member of his family. I want you to know that I’m the reason that he pioneered the orphanage that today sits next to the school. I remember him telling me that he could not stand the thought of one child growing up without a family, without love. It was his tenacity that saw the orphanage through the many tough times that it has endured as a non-profit outreach. Because of Mr. John, I now have not only a family, but also a career as a teacher. Heaven today is a better place with his presence, yet I wish that God had seen fit to let us keep him just a little longer.”
Jacob paused for a moment, and Rose took a step forward, thinking he was through.
“Oh”, he said, “I almost forgot, there is one other thing.” At this, he reached down and opened a briefcase that he had in his lap, and removed some papers. “Mr. John had a secret that he shared with me.” He looked at Rose, hoping that she would not be offended.
Rose smiled back, nothing her father did surprised her, “Go ahead, Jacob, dad was always one step ahead of me anyway.” There were several knowing chuckles from the audience.
Jacobs’s eyes sparkled. “Mr. John gave me a letter a couple days before he passed. I spoke to mayor Jenson, and he agreed to allow me to be the one to share it with you.
It is with great pride that I share with you the wonderful news that all liens for the John Smith Orphanage for the Loved have this day been forgiven. Additionally, the John Smith Orphanage for the Loved has been approved for tax-free status and will henceforth be subsidized by this great city of Greensborough. Signed, this date, Henry J. Jenson, Mayor.”
Rose finally lost it and broke into tears of joy and sadness. The audience clapped long and hearty thanks for John’s final gift. The sun, as if in agreement, chose that moment to finally break free of the clouds. Wiping the tears from her eyes, Rose looked up. “Thank you dad, thank you God.”