Do you ever get the idea that some people are going to be with us forever, that other folk will die, but not them? I think that Wilbur Wagenschutz was one of those people for me. When I see his obit on my desk, it jolts me, it doesn’t seem real.
Wilbur had been a long-time friend of my wife’s family, and when I came into her family, I became a friend of Wilbur’s as well. He had known my brother already and so we had a certain bond. And we were both Christians, another bond. And we both liked Ruth, another bond. And he was crazy (said in the most endearing way possible), another bond.
We all know that life on this planet has a beginning and an end, but somehow, Wilbur seemed a little bigger than life. Maybe he would be the exception to the rule. The adage tells us that there is an exception to each and every rule. Unfortunately, death is the exception to that rule, there is no exception to it.
For many, the first impression of Wilbur is that he was nuts, full of fun, crazy, loud, and always with a wisecrack. That is true.
To others, he was a man of the Scriptures, a truth holder, strong in his beliefs and willing to stand for them, whether anyone else did or not. That is also true.
To others, he was a family man. He loved Carol, and his children, and his grandkids, and his siblings, and anyone else who became a part of the clan. Another truth.
I suppose to others, he was a good barber, or co-worker. I never knew him that way, but from everything that I have heard, it is true.
Ruth and I have gone years at a time without seeing Wilbur and Carol. But Wilbur would call Ruth every so often, the older brother calling the little sister, catching up on life and that which surrounds it. I heard only one side of the conversation, but there was almost always laughter…mixed with concern for someone who was ailing or for the family of one who had passed.
When Wilbur was taken to the hospital in Grand Rapids and then made it back home, I was not surprised. He had the same ailment that killed my father and my brother, but it didn’t surprise me that it didn’t kill Wilbur. How do you take life from the one who is larger than life? But the call did come, the one no one wanted to make and that no one wanted to receive. Wilbur had passed from this life.
There are the obligatory declarations that “he is in a better place” and so on, but he is supposed to be here—in this life—in this place. There are not that many people around that love you like Wilbur did. There are not that many people around who are willing to stand for the Truth like Wilbur did—even if it costs. We shouldn’t lose them.
Was he really larger than life? Yeah, he was, and he is. The fact that I am writing this after his death, the fact that he has left a hole in my heart, the fact that he set an example for me, the fact that I am going to miss him, is proof that he was indeed larger than this life. The fact that there are some who are going to be in heaven because of him is certainly proof that he was larger than just the life he lived here. The fact that there are many who will miss him way more than I will, who loved him far more than I did, who have a larger hole in their heart than I do, is proof that Wilbur was more than the few years of life he lived here on earth.
I remember the fun Wilbur, the jokester, the one always ready with a wisecrack followed by his signature laugh. I will remember even more the Wilbur who stopped the jokes to talk about the Word of God with a seriousness and commitment that few others possess. He was, and is, an example to follow. I am thankful to have known him. I am even more thankful that I will see him again someday. I am left with one question: can you even tell jokes in heaven? If so, there are saints and angels enjoying a good laugh right now. Unless, that is, Wilbur is sitting at Jesus’ feet, the One he served for so many years.