A photo recently taken of my 17-month-old grandson, Riley, and his paternal great-grandfather moved me from the moment I first saw it.
There are just some photos that say so much, that convey a thousand words and elicit deep, deep thought.
The moment captured between the two in the photo is even more poignant today because Riley’s “PopPop,” John Loux, died last week, a little more than a month after the photo was taken.
I can stare at the photo for hours, pondering the gaze between the little boy just beginning his journey here on earth and that of the old man, who was about to walk through the door from this life into eternity.
What are they saying to each other in that gaze? What wisdom is PopPop wanting to impart to his grandson? What questions does Riley have for the man who had lived in this world for nearly a century?
Riley seems so intent on his great-grandfather’s face in the photo. Perhaps it’s John’s striking Colonel Sanders beard that attracts the young lad or perhaps it’s just seeing an aging gentleman. After all, Riley doesn’t come across many people of that age as he goes about his day-to-day existence of being a toddler.
I don’t think that’s it, though.
I think Riley sees something powerful and intriguing about the man with the weathered face, hinting at a life that knew joy and heartbreak, fear and pain; a life marked by his love for God, his servant’s heart and his absolute devotion to family.
Perhaps Riley could somehow grasp that this man had something important to share with him through that gaze.
Perhaps he longed to know the secrets of his PopPop’s long life.
John’s own gaze into the eyes of his grandson is just as precious, and I can only imagine what he was thinking in that moment.
Riley’s grandmother and John’s daughter, Bonnie Temple, was the one who snapped the photo and later told me that John was not doing well that morning.
John had been living with the Temples for several months after the death of his wife.
That morning, John had slept in very late and woke to the sounds of Riley playing in the living room. As John emerged from his bedroom, little Riley toddled towards his PopPop, arms raised for him to be picked up. Bonnie said her father reached down to gingerly pick up Riley and sit him down with him on his favorite chair.
Bonnie was concerned that her father, whose health was fast deteriorating, wasn’t strong enough to lift Riley, but was touched to see a sudden burst of energy empower her father enough for that moment with his grandson.
I think God wanted Riley and John to share that moment together, knowing that he would very soon be calling John home.
My musings take me to the words exchanged through that gaze.
“PopPop, tell me,” says Riley through his eyes. “What can I expect of this life? What should I do? What will it be like?”
“My little Riley — first of all, know that you are beloved,” John responds. “Life is a magnificent journey full of adventure, difficulties and uncertainty. Life will be replete with challenges, of that you can be certain. Sometimes you will be unable to make heads or tails of which way to turn, what decision to make and how to navigate the ups and downs of life.
“But, if there’s one thing I can tell you, it is this …
“Cling to God.
“Cling to him through the good, through the hard … no matter what comes your way, cling to him and you will live a wonderful, abundant life. You may not have a dime to your name at times, you may be ill, you may have concerns and experience the unfathomable pain of loss and heartbreak, but through it all, you will have an abundant life and you will know joy.
“Never forget, my boy, what was done on your behalf and take this knowledge into account in every decision you ever make, especially when it comes to people. Love like you have been loved, and take care of the people God brings into your life.
“Be kind. Be generous. Love well.
“And don’t worry. I can tell you — from this vantage point of having lived a long time and through so much change — that all will be well. God will remain faithful to you and yours, and there is nothing that you won’t be able to conquer with God in your heart and mind.
“I’ll be going soon, beloved boy, but Jesus and I will be waiting for you. You didn’t get to hear all of the memories I’ve made and cherished, but when we meet again, I’ll tell you all about this wonderful life I’ve had. I’ll be watching over you, little one. Be good. Listen to your mommy, daddy, nana and papa … they will teach to you what I taught to them. I love you, buddy.”
Bonnie told me that John grew up in a home that did not allow dancing because of their religious beliefs. She said the first time she ever saw him dance was at her wedding.
Perhaps that is why John’s eyes lit up every time Riley danced about with abandon and pure joy.
Today, John is dancing and singing with the angels, surely with his own complete abandon and purest joy.
I believe he was greeted by Jesus and the people he loved who had gone before. I know Jesus said, “I am pleased, John. You did well, my wonderful son … welcome home.”
And I imagine John took a bit of time to share with all of them the memories he had made and cherished. I imagine, too, that he thanked Jesus for his love and protection, and for precious moments he was able to enjoy with his family here on earth.
I’d bet John’s eyes lit up at encountering the sights of heaven in the same way they lit up when he looked at Riley performing his toddler antics.
And I marvel at what John must have felt at that instant when he gazed into true eternal eyes — into the absolute, unimaginable love found in his savior’s eyes.
I’d bet he thought of Riley and about the moment he shared with his great-grandson not long before his death — that captured moment when the old man and the little boy, separated by nearly a century, gazed — for just a brief, everlasting instant — into eternity.