“No Shoes Too Large to Fit”
Walking down Main Street in the Magic Kingdom, it’s hard to see the second floor window that honors the “Central Casting” team that hired the original “cast members” for Disney World. It’s even harder to see the tag line that declares, “No Shoes Too Large to Fit.”
Pat Vaughn was one of the people honored in that window. After filling the shoes in the Magic Kingdom, Pat was part of the team that hired cast members from around the world for Epcot Center. He did the same thing as a consultant for Universal Studios and then, in retirement, he filled the shoes of people who serve in Shepherd’s Hope, providing health care for underprivileged people across Central Florida.
All of which is to say that Pat’s life was always about people. No shoes were too large and no shoes were too small because he made every person – from corporate executives to indigent patients – feel that their shoes were the most important shoes in the world.
When Pat died at 88, those who gathered to thank God for Pat’s life and friendship knew that he left shoes in our lives that no one else will ever fill.
The Night of Tears
Some of us connected with Pat in our work and careers. Some connected with Pat, Ginger and Andrea as neighbors, church members, on the golf course, or around the gambling tables at the West Orange Country Club Super Bowl Party where Pat taught my grandson how to place a bet.
I’m among those who connected most deeply with Pat and Ginger in our tears. April 2, 1986: the day our mutual friend, John Brownlee, 38, died with cancer. March 17, 1987: the day Pat and Ginger’s 15 year-old son, Mark, was killed in a car accident.
John and Mark left shoes in their lives that no one else will fill. But through the tears, with each monumental loss, Pat and Ginger taught us the truth of Psalm 30.
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
…To you, O Lord, I cried…
O Lord, be my helper!”
You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
…O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever. (Psalm 30)
Pat reminded me of the way John Steinbeck described Ma Joad in “The Grapes of Wrath.”
[She] seemed to have experienced all possible tragedy and to have mounted pain and suffering like steps into a high calm…It was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials.
Never denying the pain and loss, Pat found a way through the night of tears into mornings of joy. One of Mark’s friends said, “The way Pat and Ginger remembered Mark is the model for dealing with tragedy.” Through the tears, they learned to live again. In the silence of death they heard the laughter of hope.
The Morning of Joy
The first Christmas after Mark’s death, Ginger and Pat welcomed some of Mark’s closest friends to their home for dinner. And they’ve kept doing it every year ever since. Rather than withdraw into their loss or hide in their pain, they drew Mark’s friends into their lives, adding their spouses and children along the way. Though nothing could fill the shoes that Mark left, his friends became their kids.
Those kids are now full grown adults. Some have children the age they were when Mark died. And most of them came in from across the country to be there for the memorial service.
How to Turn Tears into Laughter
When I mentioned to Ginger just how unusual it is for parents who have lost a child to embrace that child’s friends, she said, “They saved my life.”
Having shared both of the great losses in Pat’s life, one of John Brownlee’s sons who was also Mark’s friend pointed to the lesson for all of us in this story. He said Pat taught him “the option for joy after horrible tragedy if you give yourself to help others.”
Jesus taught us that if we try to save our lives — enclosing ourselves in a narrow casket of self-absorbed grief, pain or pride, isolating ourselves from others — we will lose it. But if we lose our lives — opening our life to others and giving ourselves away in self-giving love — we will find them. (Mark 8:35-36).
Sooner of later, every one of us will experience the night of tears. But we find life in the hope of the resurrection in Jesus Christ, in the promise that though weeping endures for the night, joy comes in the morning and in the love of the God who can turn tears into laughter and mourning into dancing.