Let me tell you about a man I used to know. His name was James Archie McMillan. Most people called him Arch or Archie. I called him Paw-Paw.
He was my mother’s dad. He was born in 1912 in Hardin County, Texas – that’s deep in the Big Thicket country of Southeast Texas, and he was the youngest of five boys born to James Duncan and Mary McMillan. As a matter of fact, Paw-Paw was a Leap Day baby, born February 29, 1912 – just over a hundred years ago. He married my grandmother, Sallie Walker, in 1934, and they had two children – my mom, Tommie Beth, and my uncle, Duncan.
My Paw-Paw described himself as a “jack of all trades, and a master of none.” He was the first guy I ever heard use that phrase. He worked in the oil field as a driller; if you’re not familiar with oil field hierarchy, the driller is sort of like a shift supervisor, in charge of a crew of men working on the rig.
His heritage was Scots-Irish, except he always called it “Scotch-Irish.” Not a big surprise with family names like Duncan, Archie and McMillan. Paw-Paw loved to tease and pick, and I loved to tag along with him. I used to go and spend a week during the summer with him and my grandmother, and I would ride with him to go places when he was home from the oil rig.
He died in January, 1969. He was 56. I was 12, and remember it like it was yesterday.
He had suffered a heart attack about three weeks earlier, and was in Baptist Hospital in Beaumont. These days, they would put in a stent or two, maybe do bypass surgery, and he’d be home in a week and back to work in a month. But in those days, they couldn’t do much for him.
I remember going up to his room to see him on a Sunday afternoon. He couldn’t talk – I guess he had on an oxygen mask or something, and he was very weak – but I remember him squeezing my hands and looking deep into my eyes. I can still see those eyes. The next day, he had another heart attack and died. Later, I would learn that his own father – James Duncan McMillan – had also died in his mid-50s, when Paw-Paw was only 4 years old.
I bring this up, because I had a birthday this week. I just turned 56.
Now, I’m not superstitious, nor am I especially morbid about these things, but that age has stuck with me all these years. And it brings up some questions to my mind. None of us is guaranteed tomorrow. If I knew this was going to be MY last year to live, what would I change about my life? Ask yourself: if you knew you were going to die within the next 12 months, how would YOU live? What would you do? Where would you go? With whom would you spend some of that precious time?
There’s a hard truth in this. Unless Jesus comes first, one of these days each of us will die. It may be when we are 56, or 66, or even 106, but it will come. So cherish the moments. Love deeply. Laugh often. Treasure each day.
Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” In other words, we need to live with eternity in mind. And that’s what’s on my mind as I turn 56.