"I've been walkin’ / in my sleep: / countin’ troubles / ’stead of countin’ sheep. / Where the years went, / I can’t say: / I just turned around / and they’ve gone away / . . . Now I find myself on the mountainside: / Where the rivers change direction / Across the Great Divide.”— late-great Kate Wolf

A stone’s throw from Austin, Texas, lies the thin-soiled Hill Country town of Stonewall, where President Lyndon B. Johnson was born and died. LBJ remains a politician at whom both liberals and conservatives cast stones. Austin’s own Nanci Griffith performed Kate Wolf’s gentle steel guitar song on Late Night with David Letterman. Griffith—true to her Texas roots—sported a campaign button of a previous generation: “LBJ for the USA.” Texans never give up.

Neither did one Idahoan I knew. So “advanced dementia” and “terminal cancer” were words I never expected to use in a sentence about my father. Death is the Great Divide. We wish neither we nor those we cherish had to cross it. We avoid mentioning death’s relentless approach.

Dad didn’t fear death’s darkness. One evening after supper, Dad—with crystal clarity—told me: “Jesus is such a good friend. I know he is almighty and divine and all those things, but he is such a good, good friend.” The historic physical Resurrection of Christ reminded Dad: our sins are covered; even the last enemy—death—is only a temporary divide. “Jesus said unto her: ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live . . .’” (John 11:25-26).

“The finest hour / I have seen / is the one / that comes between / the edge of night / and the break of day: / It’s when the darkness rolls away . . . / It’s gone away . . . / Now I find myself on the mountainside: / It’s where the rivers change direction / Across the Great Divide.”

Beyond that divide—through Christ—comes a sure and certain reunion.

Gary Altman


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