I burst into tears after the first sentence I heard from Marv Hegle – “Why are you wearing a rug on your head?”
I raced to the car, reasoning through tears that there was no way he could have known what an oppressive and abusive atmosphere I’d been raised in – where nothing I said or did was “good enough”. Still it was difficult to resist the spiral of old taunts returning with a perceived insult, not just to the result of my newly-learned craft of crocheting, but to me as a person.
His wife rushed after us, the newcomers they’d just met at a large metropolitan church, apologizing. “Don’t take his comments seriously,” she urged – “It’s just his weird sense of humor.” And then she invited us to their home. I wasn’t sure I wanted to subject myself to more “weird humor” but felt obligated, and surprisingly found out it was exactly what I needed.
Marv had an effect on me. Laughter emanating from his home when we approached the front door was at first a missed clue, as I self-consciously wondered if he was again joking about my crocheted hat. Warily, I’d left the hat in the car and was relieved I’d done so as I saw him glance at my bare head and then turn with twinkling eyes toward his mate to receive an obvious message. “My wife thinks I may have hurt your feelings by commenting your hat looked like a rug,” he began. Chagrined to have all eyes turned toward me, my mind raced for an appropriate response when he finished his statement with a laughing, “but it really did look like a rug to me.”
Startled, I stared at the short balding man we’d just met, then at his wife, twinklingly remonstrating him with a drawn out “Marrrrv.” and shaking her head hopelessly. His young son simultaneously moaned, “Daaaaad”, and I suddenly realized they had apparently experienced this situation many, many times before. Instead of feeling hurt, I suddenly felt challenged to one-up him, and my husband gasped as I retorted in kind, that Marv was perhaps subconsciously longing for a “rug”, referring to his almost bald pate, and followed with an offer to crochet one for him. But Marv was laughing uproariously, his eyes twinkling in approval, and the rest of the afternoon was spent in lighthearted banter.
Our friendship grew as Marv mentored us in our faith-walk – challenging me especially, that I could continue to choose to allow life’s offenses to wound me, or I could deflect them with humor and grace. I’d never known I had a choice.
He toughened me up weekly, saying things like “Never try to teach a pig to sing – it wastes your time and annoys the pig.” My childhood-trained insecurity would question if he was near me as I sang and meant it personally, but looking directly at him, I got the message, and quickly learned to enjoy his simple humor instead of analyzing potential hidden meanings to every joke. He taught me to laugh at myself when my first attempt at baking French bread turned out slim loaves, hollow and hard, by offering to buy a hundred loaves – and contribute them to the local police station as billy clubs.
He allowed me to laugh at him too, and to discover that his humor was a hard-fought victory through many physical and personal trials. Marv did not come by this knowledge without pain.
Needles, surgeries, medications were evidence of the diabetes that would eventually take my mentor, but to Marv they were more opportunities to share his faith by being a living example. I never left his home without feeling uplifted – by his attitude, a devotional he shared, or the lesson behind a silly joke that would remind me of the hope that still remained in my life.
The baggage I’d stored from years of childhood abuse was no longer evidence of an overwhelming burden, but opportunities for growth and encouragement to others. The weakness of a childhood authority who rationalized that if a person failed they were a permanent failure, was now replaced by realizing I was not only human, but had the opportunity to choose to not allow whatever happened to come between me and another person. Relationships grew astoundingly once I realized that forgiveness was an expression of a choice to love – and was something others also wanted – from me.
An extremely rare disease caused Marv’s two middle sons to be born blind – and though he and his wife wept, those feelings of pain were re-channeled by choice as Marv determined to teach his boys that same emotional freedom he was teaching me. Pity was not going to suffocate their possibilities – nor mine. So life was hard. If you look beyond the hairstyle, the clothes, and the home – outward wrappings – as Marv put it, which “are all going to burn”, I would see that everyone had burdens. Today those all four of Marv’s boys have found employment, have precious families and are a joyful reminder of a legacy I was privileged to have as part of my life.
Instead of thinking, “if only” as I observed people, I began to trade places by wondering what mysterious thing they imagined me to have that they could possibly long for. I was surprised to identify the things my mentor had verbally affirmed – a writing skill, compassion for the wounded, a good memory, a sense of drama, and a defense for the unjust. I was astonished to find myself auditioning for and receiving small parts in local theater, and having articles of life lessons and stories accepted for publication. Like forgiveness, courage had also been a gift of love.
Courage was also a choice for Marv as his disease controlled more and more of his life and hospital visits became frequent. I still crocheted, and scraps of every color yarn filled a bag on the way to each hospital visit – resulting in unique hats he wore like a crown, even though they all still looked like rugs to him.
He proudly told me he even wore them to work – and then humorously invited me to his classroom. He’d changed his career to teaching at the vocational school for the blind, and the fact that the classroom had no windows, and no reason to turn the light on except for sighted visitors, was not an insult to my creativity, he quickly assured. Laughing, I knew these students also “saw” much of what I’d missed most of my life as he introduced me as the friend who made his wonderful hats. I felt more love in that dark classroom than I’d felt in any I’d attended as a student. He was not a perfect man and often reminded others that God did not use us because we are good, but because He is. Because of that self-effacement, I trusted Marv, and he knew more about my imperfections than I wished he did, but loved me anyway. I knew that because of the choice he made in how much truth to expose.
It was a merciful thing not to have to endure the embarrassment of full exposure. Our “audience” was not led to see or be informed about the imperfections or flaws in the hat nor any of the faulty motives or petty unkindness that its maker may have had at the beginning of the hat story. Rather Marv chose to expose only the result of the choices he taught me to make.
Living on purpose is one thing – dying on purpose was also a choice. One of the last things he asked me to do was to feed him chocolate, joking that it could be his ‘kiss of death’ while thanking me for choosing to be there. That may sound macabre to some, but he knew I understood him by now, and could hear the love behind the choice of words and actions.
Thanks to Marvin Hegle, I choose to raise to my full 5 feet in height, and to find humor and hope in every life event, that others might also experience the forgiveness, love and courage that began with Marv – and a hat that looked like a rug.
1Pet. 1:8 You never saw him, yet you love him. You still don’t see him, yet you trust him—with laughter and singing.
Isaiah 54:13 All your children will have GOD for their teacher—
what a mentor for your children!