The world lost a great man last week.
If you never knew John Landers, then I feel sorry for you. Those who knew him would describe him in a plethora of ways. John was strong and loving. He was patient and he was kind. He was a man with the work ethic of an ox, someone who wanted to succeed as badly as he wanted to breathe. A man who solved murders and kept thugs off the street. A devoted father to my mother, my aunt, and my uncle, a man who loved my grandmother like none other. Yeah, my grandpa was a badass, you just ask anybody who knew him. I’ve heard stories of him as a wrestling champion in high school, a hard-nosed police officer that backed down for no one, a man who could scarf down a meal in three seconds and be back out the door on another call immediately. Hell, he would even chase down boys hollering for my mother in his underwear!
Yeah, my grandpa was a badass, but not for those reasons I just listed. You see, I never knew him as that. All these stories were of a man I never met. To me, he was simply my grandpa and my hero. I never had the chance to see my grandpa walk so we did not have the same games that other boys play with their grandfathers. We did not play catch, we played checkers (I only beat him once). He could not ride a bike with me, but that did not stop him from sitting outside while enjoying my company. Grandpa John was not disabled to me. He was never sick in my eyes. To me, he just sat on a throne with wheels, a throne that I could ride on the back of while holding on tight to him.
My grandpa suffered from Multiple Sclerosis (MS). MS is one hell of a disease. Simply put, it attacks the Central Nervous System and can cause permanent damage to nerves and their link to the brain. The extent to which the disease affects a person can vary from mild nerve damage to complete loss of the ability to walk or control other extremities. While the disease has been around for some time, very little is known about its cause and there are few effective treatments. Unfortunately, Grandpa John got the worst of it. Soon after his diagnosis, he quickly began losing his ability to walk. With the help of my grandmother (They were married over 50 years! The love story is fantastic.), my grandpa began this new stage of his life from a wheel chair. This would not stop him from walking my mother down the aisle at her wedding though. MS could take away his ability to walk, but it would not take away the fire in my grandpa’s eyes. It is that fire, that passion, that made my grandpa the man I’ve looked up to my entire life.
It would have been easy for him to sulk. He could have let the sickness take the fire out of his spirit, but he did not. He would not let his MS become an excuse on why he was unable to do what he wanted to do. Although there were plenty of hard times, he persevered. My grandpa made sure that everyone close to him was happy. He was the first one to put a Chicago Cubs hat on my head and turn me into a life long Chicago sports fan. He spoiled me, teased me about a fictional man named Billy who was constantly trying to interfere with my life, and made sure we stopped for Blue Ice Cream every year around Christmas when we came down to Florida. My grandpa was among one of my greatest fans during my years spent as a high school and college football player. Grandpa and my grandma made as many games as they possibly could, including several games where they had to travel across states to get to! I made him proud when I played. He cheered and wore my number on his back. He bragged to anyone who would listen about me. I am not sure if he ever knew how happy it made me to see him in the stands at those games.
My grandpa was an amazing man. Because of his illness, he was not able to snorkel and swim with the dolphins with us. His wheel chair could not keep up with our segway tour through Fort DeSoto. He was not able to run around the yard to play hide and seek or pick me up over his head. Instead of hanging his head, he lifted it and smiled at us. He smiled, in the face of the illness that plagued him, he smiled. Through all of the treatments and pain, he smiled. Never did he want us to slow down for him. He found happiness in watching all of his kin enjoy what he could not. My grandpa is a badass because he smiled when most would feel sorry for themselves.
I will never, as long as I live, forget that smile. His shining blue eyes had a way of lighting up a room. People gravitated towards that smile because of how powerful it was. My grandpa, a man who I never saw walk, was the strongest, most gentle, and loving man that a grandson could ever wish to have. He was a role model. He was a comedian. He was a living legend that will continue to inspire many of us as we walk down our own paths. Among all these things though, my favorite thing about John Landers was that he was my grandpa.
I miss you, I love you, and I am looking forward to walking beside you when we meet again in Heaven. Rest easy Grandpa.