Orbits … the events we use to mark time and passages. The second hand of a watch makes an orbit and we call it a minute. The minute hand marches around and an hour is marked. Our planet spins on its axis, one full circle and the day is done. The earth makes a full orbit around the sun and another year is added to our age.
We humans also move in orbits, not in the literal sense like planets or heavenly bodies but our lives weave and loop, our trajectories intersect with thousands of fellow travelers, and every crossing of paths provides the opportunity for a positive or negative impact. The briefest encounter with an ill-tempered person can bring you down, a sincere smile from a total stranger can brighten your day. We also orbit in parallel paths with people for stretches that can last months, years and decades. Those longer circuits have the same potential for a detrimental or favorable influence on our journeys.
The orbit of Halley’s comet brings it close to Earth once every 75-76 years. This comet is the only known short-period comet that is visible to the naked eye. If you are born at the right time, you might have a chance to see this comet twice in a lifetime. Like a viewing of Halley’s comet, if you are paying attention during your pilgrimage, there will be a few times, rare moments where an intersection with another journeyer will alter your path for the good, giving you a fresh perspective, making you a better person for having known them. Such was the case with my intersection with Aaron David Borchelt.
Aaron came to work at Concordia Publishing House taking over the role of a retiring long-time employee. He was a quick study and mastered the position faster than anyone expected. His can-do attitude and quick wit made him a favorite with his co-workers. Our job functions brought us together, but we bonded over baseball. Aaron had worked as an usher for the baseball Cardinals since he was 17 and had amassed a wealth of knowledge about the game. We would meet to discuss budgets and schedules for the projects we were involved with but found plenty of time to second-guess calls made by the umps and the decisions of the manager from recent games. I had orbited the sun 28 times more than Aaron. I shared stories of my favorite players who were active before Aaron was born, he regaled me with tales of the current crop of Cardinals.
When Aaron first came to work at Concordia Publishing House, he was on crutches, laboring to walk with a yet-to-be diagnosed illness. His condition deteriorated, but his positive attitude only seemed to get stronger. It wasn’t long until he had to use a wheelchair to get around the building, then a motorized wheelchair. I clearly remember the meeting where he announced to the rest of the team that he was going to the Mayo Clinic. You could tell he was pumped at the prospect of finally getting an accurate diagnosis of his condition and possible cure. He came back two days earlier than expected. I went into his cubicle to welcome him back, he was as close to being down as I had ever seen him, he confided that the doctors were certain it was ALS. I can’t remember how I responded, I’m sure it wasn’t eloquent or comforting. Aaron never mentioned ALS again in my presence. I believe he didn’t want to dignify the illness by naming it.
His mental acuity and memory allowed him to do his job, even as his body failed him. I could walk into his cubicle, say the title of a current project and he would recite the project number and most times any information I needed concerning the budget or schedule without referring to his computer. One of the projects we were working on was a book on mentoring, the working title was, Walk with Me. One day I went to where he was seated in his wheelchair and just said, “walk with me.”
He laughed and replied, “I wish I could,” then proceded to reel off the information I needed about that job. He loved to interject humor into every aspect of his vocation. We looked forward to his meeting invite emails because he would invariably take the words from the subject to be discussed or the book title we were planning and twist them into a groaner of a pun or some wordplay.
I rode up the elevator with him one morning. At this point, he could no longer lift his arms to press the floor selector buttons. I was carrying an antique tube radio I had purchased. I talked about its design and function, and concluding by saying, “Of course it’s only AM.”
He laughed and said, “So, it only works in the morning?”
He was that quick and that smart!
Aaron would matter of factly ask for help when he needed it, but not tolerate anything that even came close to pity. I tried to express to him once my respect and admiration for the way he handled himself given what he had to deal with. He froze me with a steely stare from his baby-blues, and I quickly changed the subject. Aaron did not pity himself and he sure as heck wasn’t going to allow anyone else to pity him.
Aaron’s life acted as a mirror, reflecting God’s love and goodness onto anyone he came in contact. His servant attitude combined with his strength of character, unflinching positive attitude, and limitless humor created a gravitational pull that altered the orbit of anyone whose path he crossed.
Aaron made his last orbit on December 3rd, 2019. He rounded 3rd and headed for home plate, deftly sliding in ahead of the throw. The call came quickly, it was obvious to all that were watching, there was no need for a review, he was safe. Aaron David Borchelt was safe, nothing could touch him now, he was safe, safe at home … rejoice!