It was the early spring of 1969, and the shot heard around our microcosm of the world caused the Prince family’s life to abruptly happen while we were clearly making other plans. We stood frozen and painfully awake to its unwelcome attention. And within a camera flash, our family photograph was minus one, and the sad man was left to pick up the pieces with no idea of how to put his family back together again. Friend and familial speculations and conspiracy theories were forthcoming, and yet a wise and solemn few simply wept, listened and poised for the gap they would now need to fill in the aftermath. My older brother of 12 and sister of 10 were robbed at gunpoint forever of a Mother’s love, and this child of almost 5 would never know what hit him until the later discovery of a void the size of Texas. I guess you could say that for us, this was the day our music died–somewhere between The Yellow Submarine and Abbey Road.
Many months’ later there were mixed emotions at some unwelcome wedding bells in the air, and the young bride that joined the sad man in holy matrimony had no idea what “I do” would cost her in the way of mostly sickness rather than health–with death’s parting to be postponed until much further notice. And with three orphans and a beautiful baby boy on the way, they would now embark on new beginnings, and thus the abrupt pause hit play for the Prince family once again. Then one day it happened, and the sad man would surrender and give his life to the one who had promised beauty for his ashes, and strength where fear once took up residence and stayed for far too long. And thus he would put his hand in the hand of the man from Galilee, and they would walk together for the rest of his days–even through the valleys and the shadows of a certain kind of death. And he was indeed the sad man behind beautiful, loving blue eyes.
His life started in 1937, right before the final curtain was pulled on the great depression. He was the baby of a family of four children, with two sisters and a brother to guide him along the way. After all, his Papa was a rolling stone who often forgot to make their house his permanent home. And Mom, well…she just kind of rolled with the punches, and there were more than a few of those so I’m told. His Dad and he would later reunite in a common salvation that restored some years that the devil had stolen from them, but the sad man admitted that he never really knew his Father. He wanted to though. Man, he wanted to so very, very much. And so the dreams of his Father’s vacancy and the family that never truly was filled his lifetime of mostly sleepless nights.
The sad man made a startling discovery sometime during my turbulent teens however. It was a new medicine that helped with an imbalance that many were sure defined his sadness to the core. And they were of course partly right. The progress that he made was nothing short of miraculous I was told, and it showed in his life in almost every way. He became a wonderful Christian man who would give the shirt off of his back to any lost soul, as well as someone who was a wonderful teacher and indeed a fisher of men that would shame most of us. Through all my years, I remember his faithful attendance and leadership at men’s prayer breakfasts, prison ministry, and his constant work in the church; and witnessed firsthand the growing reputation that the sad man had in our community for being someone that I truly believe was a man after God’s own heart. But like all men with that gift, he had his demons too; and at times they were Legion. And yet it was through those episodes manifested before me that I witnessed equally a brokenness and humility that had to make Jesus awfully proud. I just don’t know that he ever really believed it.
During my time as a prodigal son, while his demons were at bay, the sad man did everything he could to have a relationship with me, and to somehow not repeat the sins of his Father. He also tried desperately to connect with me about what was going on inside this troubled head of mine, but the generation gap was a class that he had just missed. And though sadly, in many ways the die on our relationship was already cast, I remember his continual pursuit of a son whom he thought might not make it to see his 18th birthday. He even made time for family devotions, even when he probably knew I’d rather cough up a spleen than to join in! I also witnessed many, many times, finding him on his knees in tears, pouring over the scriptures with his pocket protector pen kit not far beside. And I knew that on that day when he first saw the light of Christ, that part of his burden did roll away; and admittedly, though in the strangest of ways, he infected me with a heart after God that is also unquenchable, yet with my own demons of various shapes and sizes lurking in a dark corner nearby.
My reference to my Father as the sad man, is simply because he was just that for most of his life, and not even his beautiful and contagious smile could hide it from those who knew him best. Though modern medicine, a good counselor and Jesus Christ came in and gave him a new lease on life, the malevolent quasi-deities that lurk in the fallen world’s undercurrent of devastating tsunami’s, dysfunctional families, tragedies that strike unannounced, and repetitive sins of absentee or simply passive Fathers, are deep in the human psyche and make their time-release impressions until we give up the ghost. This of course is not to negate the work that Christ does in a life fully committed to the pursuit of the abundant life he promises, but to simply state that for those who struggle with real depression, theirs is a sometimes endless battle of peaks and valleys, with not much else in between.
I can remember many times before his death, as he continued to have periodic overnight visits to the hospital for new tests and new adjustments in supposed elixir that would finally get him back on track, that I felt as if something was still amiss. And as I watched, I continually encountered the sad man behind blue eyes still searching for a good nights sleep, or one day that he could wake up to say that he was truly happy. I could feel him slipping. I knew it when one day I asked him why didn’t he read his Bible and pray much anymore, and I remember him telling me that he didn’t feel worthy to do so. I was taken aback to learn this from a man who all but had a bible as a protruding appendage from his side, nor far from his eyes or spoken from the lips of his mouth for as long as I could remember. And then, the medicine that would ultimately give the supposed initial cure so many years before, now became part of his undoing, which took a man who never drank or smoked to an untimely death at the age of 73.
It will be seven years this December since my beautiful Christian father passed away. His last days came in the wake of my own economic tsunami of 2008, when I too wrestled for a smile to cast some shadow to others on what was really going on inside. I felt like he always had something he wanted to say to us during that time, but I think he was in a hurry to go and just leave it all behind and perhaps just get a good nights sleep for a change, and to finally rest in the arms of his Savior and Lord. Jesus of course I believe has now wiped away his tears, taken away his pain, and I’m pretty sure his joy and his smile is now the talk of the heavenly city. And to be sure, his mansion will of course be much bigger than mine ever will. This is of course what he longed for after all, and I think the more we walk with Jesus on the narrow path, however shakily along the way, the longing to fill the eternal void is still always a preoccupation in our souls. But, while he was here, he was indeed the sad man behind blues eyes, and I guess you could say that I am my Father’s son.
Watch over us Dad, because we could use a little help down here. Tell Jesus I said Hello and to save the other hand for me please.
P.S. Happy Father’s Day!
I don’t have the words to express how your article touched me. This was absolutely beautiful! Thank you for opening your soul and giving us a small glimpse into your heart. Having known your father and his love for Jesus, as well as the demons he struggled with, I have a fresh love for him and for the way he always tried to minister to others and lift their spirits, even as he grappled with his own horrible depression at a time when even Christians felt if someone were depressed they just needed to read the Bible. I pray that people will realize and understand that depression is a real illness just as awful as cancer, heart problems, etc., and there will no longer be a stigma about depression. You really have a gift for writing! Truly, I have been blessed. June
June i can’t tell you how much your words also encouraged me as I know some of your own own struggles though surely not the half of it. It had been awhile and I wanted to honor my Father with both honesty and love at the same time. Love you and give big George a big hug for me as well. Thanks for reading. God’s Peace to you!
This broke my heart in the in the most bittersweet kind of way. I love you, this was beautiful.
Thank you son. I love you back.
This made me cry! I love you Uncle Mark. Happy Fathers Day!!!
Thank you for your honest and vulnerable insight! Love you man, and know that I give thanks to our heavenly Father for the joys and pains of attempting to be a faithful earthly father.
Thanks Ron. When you get some time read some of my other blogs. God Bless you and thanks for reading.
Mark that is so sweet, but also sad you are truly blessed with gods beauty and love for all. Thank you for your touching devotion. Love Aunt Joan
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I would encourage you to continue to write. You do it beautifully. God has given you a gift. The title captured me as I had recently looked up the words to the song. The song came to mind as I have found myself returning smiles that did not include my eyes. What a difference when you see someone smile, not just as a gesture of what their facial muscles are capable of but an inner joy that can’t help but include their eyes. One day I pray to find my joy so complete in Jesus that no matter my circumstances , I can consistently genuinely smile.
Windy, thank you for your encouragement and for sharing a piece of your soul like I attempt to do when I wrote. Please stay in touch and I will pray for you as I covet yours. Peace