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I have this saying in my bathroom, which is always a good place to think, that proclaims: “God determines who walks into your life. It is up to you to decide who you let walk away, who you let stay and who you refuse to let go.”

Twenty years ago, as I was facilitating a three-week adult education class, a distinguished-looking gentleman walked in. He bore an unusual name – Merville Button – and endeared himself to the class within minutes. A friendship started between us that has lasted well into Merv’s self-proclaimed “middle age.” He is now 87 years young!

On the final day of class, Merville came bearing a beautiful hand-made wooden bowl. It was a wonderful gesture of gratitude. He went on to share with the class that after retiring as a county agent for our local Wyoming County Cooperative Extension, he turned to another love and transformed one of his small barns into a woodworking workshop.

It is within his workshop that his imagination and creativity begin to take root. He chooses a piece of wood, which could be cherry, curly maple, walnut, butternut or oak. He looks at it lovingly. He caresses it with tenderness. He smells it and gazes upon its character. It is almost as if he is getting to know this piece of raw wood as an intimate friend.

Merville then goes about measuring, cutting, turning, gluing, sanding and polishing it until this raw piece of material takes on a life of its own. To me, Merv is very much like God because he begins to see all of the possibility of what can be when someone takes the time and love to bring forth a new creation.

Each Friday, Merv and I meet for breakfast. I sometimes refer to this time as “breakfast with Merv” – a spinoff of “Tuesdays with Morrie.” We seem to be able to share about anything, but interestingly, the topic of conversation so often goes back to Merv’s shop and what he is currently working on.

I suppose it should not have come as a surprise when, a few weeks ago, he began the conversation with, “I am working on a new project. But I don’t want you to think I am crazy or something.”

That statement, of course, intrigued me. “I am making my own coffin,” he said. Merv told me that he and his wife, Martha, had thought perhaps it was time to look into making some prearrangements at our local funeral home. It was then that he decided that he could, and that he wanted to, build the last place that his earthly body would lay.

I sat back in the booth at the restaurant and just smiled. It was so Merville. In life, he looked at all possibilities and choices. And now, even in death, he was still looking at all possibilities and choices. And the decision remained his.

Anyone who knows Merv knows that he is quite the storyteller. He has a tale for any occasion. But making his own casket? To me, that is the story of stories!

The only advice I have given to Merville is that he should refrain from putting the last nail in his coffin, because that which is not finished will not be able to be used.

Hats off to this man who delights in life itself. I hope he knows that he is one of those friends whom I “refuse to let go.”