When I was ten years old, my mother summoned me to go for a visit with an aunt and uncle I had never met. On the way, she explained my uncle had treated her very poorly throughout their lives. She explained how he was on his deathbed with cancer and asked to see her before he passed.
When we got there, we went into the room where my uncle was lying and sat down. Almost immediately, he began to cry and thank my mother profusely for coming. As they spoke, he just apologized over and over. My mother would tell him that she’d forgiven him and he’d say, “How?” and start crying again. It was the most I’d ever seen an adult man weep.
After what seemed like forever, he turned his attention to me. We apparently shared the same birthday. He told me what a saint my mother was and then told me I could have anything in his house that I wanted. He kept on talking and talking, insisting that I take something.
There, on the wall in that “death room,” as it looked to my ten-year-old eyes, was a taxidermied deer head from a ten-point buck. I told my uncle that I liked it, and he related to me the hunt on which he had taken the animal. He was delighted that I had found something I wanted. When we finished the visit, we took it off the wall and put it in the car’s back seat.
On the ride home, my mother told me more of the story about her brother. She told me how he beat her many times when she was a teenager. “Sometimes, he would back-hand me and knock me against a wall. You don’t ever want to hurt people, John. If you do, you’ll find yourself begging on your deathbed.” she related with tears running down her face.
That deer head stayed in my life for more than ten years. I had never had any taxidermy before that point and didn’t realize that they were hollow. Thus the mount became the perfect parent-free stash for my teenage self. A few times, my room got searched, but they never found the deer-head-hideaway hanging in plain sight.
Hundreds of times, I took that mount off the wall. Hundreds of times, I thought about meeting that uncle for only one hour. I remembered how he cried and begged for forgiveness and how there was no time left for restitution. It still impacts me to this day. Of all the ways to leave the body, begging and groveling for forgiveness doesn’t top my list.
I knew a pastor well, an excellent musician, who accidentally killed himself in a hunting accident with a shotgun. He died a few months after he and I had fallen out over some religious, doctrinal bullshit that really didn’t matter. He passed on, and I never made it right. The situation brought me memories of my uncle and that deer head – waiting too long to set things straight.
A few months later, I made a road trip. I drove around and saw people who I had wronged, pastors, and other people in ministry that I had talked about behind their backs. I confessed, apologized, and asked forgiveness to their faces. Without exception, all forgave me and told me how blessed they were by my actions. I learned it’s better to be in relationship with folks than to be “right.”
Four decades have passed since my uncle gave me that “dying” gift. In all that time, being a pastor and a police officer, I’ve seen lots of folks pass. From those I dearly loved to utter strangers, young and old, wealthy and needy. Most have regrets about relationships.
The greatest thing I learned from that taxidermy was “don’t wait.” When I do something that hurts someone else, I seek forgiveness as quickly as possible. I keep all my accounts short with no room for error, so when that day comes, when Maharaj-ji says my time is done, there are no griefs to burden my soul!
Is there a call you need to make? A letter you need to compose? Or maybe a check you need to mail? Do you need to make something right? Don’t wait. Do it. A good dose of humility today is infinitely better than regret and despair when it’s time to depart!