Two Ears; One Tongue

He had two ears and one tongue—my Uncle Monroe.

At family reunions, he’d pat an empty chair next to him and ask me a question.

Amazing, his eyes would say, while I talked, tell me more.

So I did. And I came away from Monroe seeing the fascinations of my life.

Never mind that his stories were better than mine.

After all, he was the only human “guinea pig” I knew. As a conscientious objector during the Korean War, he was among the first volunteer normal-control patients in clinical studies at the National Institutes of Health. In one study, he and eleven others were kept awake so doctors could study the effects of sleep deprivation. What happened, Monroe told me, was strange. After a couple days, he and his study partners couldn’t talk straight and saw things that weren’t there. But, their bodies faring better than their minds, they could still play basketball.

I know this much, but I wish I had asked him more.

And not just about being a human guinea pig. What was it like for an Amish-Mennonite plowboy from the hills of western Maryland to earn a Ph.D. and to work in Manhattan at the New York University lab where moon rock was analyzed?

What was it like to serve on a bishop board and on a Head Start board and on a camp board?

And after 55 years in the Big Apple, how did it feel to retire in a cottage nestled into the hillside of a retirement village just miles from the fields he plowed as a boy?

With Monroe having asked the questions, I’ve missed my chance to hear more from him.

Instead I’ll mourn at his funeral today. But already I’ve heard stories from others who knew him.

“He was curious about my life,” they’ve been saying.

And this gift he gave to so many of us has now become our calling.

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