My favorite part of Fritz’s funeral was when his friends got up to tell stories about him— how he got locked inside the city dump once, how he ate breakfast at Wimpy’s diner every week, and how the waitresses kept a bottle of special syrup there just for him. Fritz was man with his eyes on heaven, but he sure did like this earth. He loved food and good music. He played the harmonica and wore a pressed sport coat. He made friends easily.
Among all the black-and-white pictures at his funeral, there were two pieces of paper on the table up front. One was stained with time and wore the stamped letters of a typewriter. It was a poem Fritz had written about the ocean and the moon, probably from some Navy sea port, and had flowing lines like: The wind becomes a rhythm and the surf throbs as it races onto the sands. (Isn’t that nice?)
The other was a scrap of notebook paper. At the top was written in all caps: “Songs For The Heavenly Lift-Off.” The list filled the page and included In The Garden and I’ll Fly Away and When We All Get To Heaven— and then as an afterthought, (What A Day Of Rejoicing That Will Be!). Fritz loved Jesus, and he longed for heaven, and he crooned over the people in his life who weren’t headed there. We knew those souls by name because he called them out during prayer meeting. And we prayed for them.
I never knew Fritz as well as I could have. After cancer got to his face and made it hard for his mouth to blow a harmonica, he asked if I would teach him the violin. Of course, I said I would (but sadly, never did).
Fritz, though, was a man I couldn’t help but know, because the truth was that Fritz knew me. Sure, he had friends in Florida and from the Navy and at places like Wimpy’s, but I never doubted I was his friend, too. One Sunday, at the front of the church, Fritz hugged me, and I remember the soft feel of his flannel button-up, and I remember how I felt known.
A man bound for heaven, Fritz wrung as much goodness out of this life as he could. Like the saints in Hebrews 11, he had his eyes on “a better country, a heavenly one,” but that didn’t make him a fussbudget on earth. It made him play music and write poetry and become a friend of sinners along the way.
“If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.” ~ C.S. Lewis