Sunday, November 24, 2013

Jacob Matovu 1944-2013

One week ago a friend, colleague and lunch partner died.

His name was Jacob Matovu. Jacob was a long-time communication professor at Appalachian State University. We only overlapped by one year; I was on the way into the department when Jacob was packing his desk, readying for a well-deserved retirement.

However, Jacob's journey going forward was more bitter than sweet. He fought cancer and its residual effects hard, well and with dignity. My relationship with Jacob was always intertwined with medical talk, hospital stays and times of rest and rehab.

Jacob and I were alike in some ways, very different in others. I'm a kid from central Wisconsin; Jacob made his way to the United States via an originating path from Uganda. Jacob was a man with two daughters; I am a man with no children. We did have some commonalities. We enjoyed engaging talk about our Christian faith and we were both divorced men.

I don't understand how life works, but I do know this: Be open to those who cross your path. There was something about Jacob that motivated me to reach out, to plan our lunch dates, to visit him on occasion at his home. My life is better for it. I'm not really feeling emotion, but rather an emptiness.

Jacob's funeral was yesterday. Family and friends crowded into his church and we shared stories and paid tribute. The family allowed me to read a bible passage, one that Jacob himself had requested:

Habakkuk 3:17-19 (from "The Message" bible)

Though the cherry trees don’t blossom and the strawberries don’t ripen,
Though the apples are worm-eaten and the wheat fields stunted,
Though the sheep pens are sheepless and the cattle barns empty,

I’m singing joyful praise to God. I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God.
Counting on God’s Rule to prevail, I take heart and gain strength.

I run like a deer. I feel like I’m king of the mountain!

Looking back, this passage sums up Jacob's life. He could take the hits in the storm of life, lean on God, and journey forward. No whining, no complaints. Just expressed gratitude for friends and family.

And in the end, Jacob not only lived well, but he died well too. With dignity and grace. I arrived at the hospital just moments after he passed. I looked down on his frail body and saw only a shell, for the spirit and soul had gone to the Lord.

Journey on, my friend. Pain free and walking strong. I can only hope to follow in your shadow.

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