"When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost."
Billy Graham (1918–2018)
It has been more than a decade since Billy Graham's last crusade; consequently, there are many people living today who have no memory of the evangelist in his prime — when he routinely drew huge crowds to massive stadiums and counseled presidents at critical times in our nation's history.
There are people in our lives that we can't imagine living without. They tend to be people with whom we share some sort of personal connection — friends, parents, siblings, etc. My mother's mother was such a person for me. When I was little, I believed everything she said. With the benefit of hindsight, I realize now that there were some things she told me that weren't true, but I understand why she told me most of those things, and she is undiminished in my eyes. She will always be wise and a model to follow, however I may stumble.
One thing she told me — many times and in many ways — was what a wonderful person Billy Graham was, how inspiring he was, how fulfilling it was to be in his presence. She went to a couple of his crusades, and I can recall her vivid description of the experience of a Billy Graham crusade at Texas Stadium.
My personal religious beliefs have been less certain than hers over the years. Let's be clear: I have never regarded myself as an atheist. For awhile, I looked upon myself as an agnostic, but now I tend to empathize with Timmy in "The Subject Was Roses" when he said, "I believe there is something bigger than myself. What you call it or what it is, I don't know."
There may have been a time in my grandmother's life when she had her doubts — most people do — but by the time I came along she was certain of things. She knew what was bigger than herself. I'm not there yet.
Billy Graham gave her that assurance — as he did millions around the world.
There was a time when I thought my grandmother liked Billy Graham because he was a friend of Richard Nixon. My grandmother was an admirer of Nixon, but I realized that her fondness for Graham was entirely separate from her admiration for Nixon. The fact that they were friends was, for my grandmother, a happy coincidence.
Those who were close to Nixon always seemed to suffer for it. I suppose Graham suffered for it, too, because, after Nixon left office, he tried to avoid the appearance of partisanship. He was mostly successful, too, but he continued to pay a price.
I have written before of people I thought would always be there. That was a foolish state of mind, and I guess I always knew that. Everyone dies. We all know that.
Still, I just always thought that Billy Graham would go on forever. His body did not. He passed away early today after a lengthy battle with prostate cancer, pneumonia and symptoms of Parkinson's. I knew he had been sick, but I figured he was one of those people who would live to be 100. That would have been a suitably biblical age for him. It was not to be, though.
But he built a legacy that will live on — in his writings, recordings and videos — so that those who never knew what it was like at a Billy Graham crusade, even those who can remember when they were still being done but never had the first–hand experience.