I was a freshman in high school when Billy Joel’s record company released his controversial song “Only the Good Die Young.” I didn’t realize at the time that it was controversial, probably because I’m not Catholic. I actually knew nothing of the history of the song until today, when the title came to mind. You can read about the song and Joel’s take on it here.
My purpose today is not to reflect on Billy Joel or controversial music, but to celebrate the long life of a good man.
A week from now at this time I will be either in or on the way to Ukraine for my fourth Ukraine music mission trip with the Singing Men of North Central Texas. My first trip was in October 2010 and I had no idea at the time how amazing this opportunity would be.
We saw responses to the simple gospel in song and spoken word that few people seen first-hand. In our trips there since 2010, we have sung to over 40,000 people and have seen over 20,000 registered commitments to follow Christ.
But, back to that first trip. I remember clearly the rehearsal before our final concert. I was looking at a group of men seated on the front row, all of whom were in their 70’s and 80’s. I felt a wave of emotion, wondering how many of these older saints were on their final mission trip—certainly the final one overseas.
Don was one of those guys. He was 81. I had met him a few years earlier when he and his wife had been camp missionaries at a pre-teen summer camp where I was the worship leader for the week. They spent the week loving kids and telling stories and showing artifacts from their 36 years serving as missionaries to Korea.
When I got reacquainted with Don several years later through Singing Men, he was widowed and walking at a slower pace, but his life was full. He was active in Singing Men, his church ministries, taking in concerts, and posting his encouraging thoughts on social media.
We have shared every Ukraine trip and not only was he signed up to go again next week, he was already registered for our trip to New York City in October 2018!
Now 88, he was upbeat about a cancer diagnosis from about a year ago. His doctor told him that it was slow moving and that he could live another 10 years. He said that 97 was a pretty good prognosis and he would just keep right on rolling.
Thursday of last week he was in his place on the front row at the Singing Men concert in Dallas. Friday night, he attended a concert of the Fort Worth Symphony and posted his report on Facebook.
Sometime after returning home Friday evening, he went outside and fell, suffering a head injury that resulted in a massive brain bleed. On Sunday afternoon, he was promoted to the choir of heaven.
I’ll miss him in Ukraine next week and in all subsequent concerts. Billy Joel has made a lot of entertaining music over the years, but “Only the Good Die Young” doesn’t know much about faith, age, or death.
With these inadequate words, I celebrate a man who spent a long life reminding people of their worth to God. See you later, my friend.