Howard is my second brother. He moved onto our suburban Houston block when we were in elementary school, and soon thereafter became my older brother's best friend. Howard was the smallest of all the neighborhood guys, eventually standing at about 5'7" compared to their 6'+, but he never let that be an issue. He was pound-for-pound stronger than most of them, and had the fight to back up his talk.
I've never known anyone like Howard, so the name "Howard" defines his personality to me. His face never shows any fear, almost always a half-grin, and always eyes that say "let's do it!" no matter what "it" is. He had my back just as much as my brother did, even as an adult. I could count on him for anything, even just a laugh.
While teaching high school, I would fill empty minutes in class with "crazy Howard" stories, all of which seem unbelievable, but all of which are true. Or as true as my telling of his adventures could be.
Pranks, like when he and my brother put skunks in the basement dryer of the boys' dorm, turned on the heat, and let the aroma spread.
Like when they collected fingernail and toenail clippings for weeks on end, then let me watch while one distracted the cafeteria lady and the other mixed them in the cottage cheese. What a memorable lunchroom experience.
Like when he ran through the girls' dorm wearing only an old man mask and his undies, causing unknown excitement in the Baptist haven and me to be questioned by the police. I informed them I couldn't identify Howard, as I didn't recognize him in his underwear.
Like when I took my teenage daughters to meet him, and he offered to sell us to a skanky old man in the next pickup at the red light.
Animal encounters, like when he went swimming in the river while at college in San Marcos, caught a baby alligator barehanded, and kept it in his bathtub for a week. He later donated it to the zoo.
Like when he was on a mission trip to a tiny village in Tibet(?) and tracked a wild lynx which had been eating the local chickens. He followed it into a lean-to with no exit, and finding himself stuck in the small area with the cat, grabbed it by its hind legs and swung it to death against the walls. I assumed he'd been offered the local chief's daughter as a gift of gratitude, but evidently not.
Like when he grabbed a snake by its tail, and popped it so hard that the mouse it had eaten flew out.
Like when he shot local farmers' prairie dogs with a high-powered rifle, killing two birds with one stone by ridding them of the pests, and fine-tuning his (in)famous shooting prowess.
Protective scenarios, like when he was on another mission trip overseas' return flight home, and a drunk man was bothering a teenage girl from their church. Howard politely told the man to quit, but the drunk persisted. Howard returned to his seat and waited until the man went to the lavatory, where he beat some semblance of respect into him. Upon landing, the stewardesses vouched for Howard, and he avoided arrest.
Howard lives and loves his life intensely. He exudes enthusiasm and passion for life. He gives God credit for every good thing, and every grace he has ever experienced. He loves people as a natural extension of his love for God, and people respond enthusiastically.
I saw Howard Sunday, as he nears death due to cancer invading his body. In less than a year, he has been all over the world, getting the latest treatments, allowing himself to fight this cruel disease with the same intensity with which he lives. Now the end is near; he is close to seeing Jesus, and he is ready.
As a testimony to his sincere witness, the sheer number of people who have lovingly responded to his physical crisis is amazing. And every single person has a powerfully personal relationship with him. That's just Howard. His life truly glorifies God.
His eyes say "let's do it!" as he anticipates heaven.