The Judge and the Freshman

Blog / Produced by The High Calling

The gathering was sudden and unexpected; most folks there hadn’t seen each other in years. Old slights were long forgotten, failures forgiven. Excesses of earlier days seemed inconsequential. All that remained were stories now bordering on legend.

The story most requested? Ah, yes. The one about the young man from a strict “T-totaling” religious home who attended a small Christian college; along with his new-found independence he discovered a new “freedom of expression.” In a questionable state, the young man shimmied up one of the campus’s venerable statues, a towering bronzed judge holding his top hat upside down at the end of his extended arm, and used the judge’s hat for unintended purposes. The next morning campus police found an amateur drinker sound asleep in his car parked on the statue steps. He was, of course, summarily suspended; this well-known conservative site of higher education didn’t encourage that sort of freedom of expression. Next stop for this young man was a few years in the Navy to serve in a war against a man named Hitler. When the war ended, a matured young man returned home determined to reclaim his college education. With a solid denominational pedigree, a blemish-free military record, and letters of commendation, he still had to grovel before the Dean for a special dispensation!

Sometime since that episode, I’m told, the open space in the top hat was filled. Who knows what prompted that decision. I only know that the story (and the laughter) has a life of its own.

Following the sudden and untimely death of this man who served his country, his family, and the Risen Christ, in a full house of grieving family and friends, these were the stories told and retold, funnier with every retelling. A family and a grieving widow, enfolded by a community of faith, celebrated and remembered one man’s life. Tears succumbed to laughter that led to more tears. In time, both brought healing.

Family stories differ and scenes change. Whether in homes and hospitals, churches or businesses— across time and cultures, the outcome is the same. Laughter heals and brings hope. Humor shared loosens the bonds of fear and despair. The overwhelming grows manageable; and for a few moments at least, the pain lessens. Humor—like art, music, and poetry—is best when shared. The very nature of laughter is contagious.

My father was very young when he “blessed” the university’s statue of the eminent judge. My daughters were not yet born and would never know their expansive, fun-loving, generous-to-a-fault grandfather. But they know the story of the fresh-from-home college student discovered asleep in his car on the steps before the Judge. They know the stories of a salesman who “made a personal friend of every client he served.” They know they have a grandfather who always said, “I can’t wait to make of fool of myself over my grandkids.” They know the heart of man who loved them before they were born and left them a legacy of faith and a heritage of humor. They know that God’s grace is bigger than any one failure. Best of all, they know how to laugh.

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