On my fifty sixth Memorial Day, I need to be reminded not to forget the sacrifices made by my fellow countrymen. This is not a vacation day. This is a day meant for the hard work of painful remembrance. This is a day to slog through the mud of the battlefields, the searing heat of the deserts, the dripping humidity of the jungles, the icy snowbanks of wintertime battle fronts.
For my father on Memorial Day
It was always a part of what we knew about you-
Serving three long years in the South Pacific,
Spoken of obliquely
If asked about, but never really answered.
We knew you were a battalion leader
Knew you spent many nights without sleep,
Unsure if you'd see the dawn
Only to dread what the next day would bring.
“Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo? It’ll be spring soon. And the orchards will be in blossom. And the birds will be nesting in the hazel thicket. And they’ll be sowing the summer barley in the lower fields… and eating the first of the strawberries with cream. Do you remember the taste of strawberries?”
― J.R.R. Tolkien
In our despairing moments, we recollect and hold on to memories most precious to us, recalling what makes each moment, indeed life itself, special and worthwhile. It can be something so seemingly simple that becomes the most cherished and retrievable–the aroma of cinnamon in a warm kitchen, the splash of colors in a carefully tended garden spot, the cooing of mourning doves as light begins to dawn, the velvety soft of a newborn foal’s fur, the embrace of welcoming arms.
Today, as our family once again heads to two cemeteries to honor our dead, it is those simple things we will recall and treasure, pass on in stories, and never leave buried in the ground. The legacy of these memories lives and thrives in the next and then the next generation, to be told and retold, not to rest, eventually to be forgotten, under a marker.
Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo? Do you remember?
“To live coram Deo is to live one’s entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God.
To live in the presence of God is to understand that whatever we are doing and wherever we are doing it, we are acting under the gaze of God.
To live all of life coram Deo is to live a life of integrity.
It is a life of wholeness that finds its unity and coherency in the majesty of God.
It is a life that is open before God.
It is a life in which all that is done is done as to the Lord.
It is a life lived by principle, not expediency; by humility before God, not defiance.
It is a life lived under the tutelage of conscience that is held captive by the Word of God.”
We buried and bid goodbye to my husband’s mother Emma yesterday. In the past, too many family funerals have taken place in mid-winter, with snow and ice and north wind blowing chill at the graveside. This service was different, a full week after the first hay had been cut and baled in the fields around town, with pink dogwoods and rhododendrons moving past peak bloom, with summer moving in fast to push aside the promise of spring.
In a way, burying the dead in the midst of so much life and growth and beauty seems discordant and not at all fitting. But life has never stopped the inevitable crush of death before–with one exception over two thousand years ago.
Her children wrote in her eulogy that she lived “coram Deo“–literally “in the face of God.” Her pastor eloquently described her as the woman of Proverbs 31:30: “a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised.”
Emma lived under the gaze of God, under the authority of God, open before God, captivated by the Word of God. Her life was long and fruitful, loved and loving. It was right and fitting to bury her surrounded by so much lush life, growth and beauty, as she left her gifts to surround the open grave in the form of her children, her grandchildren — some who had traveled many miles, her greatgrandchildren and the many people, like myself, who had been touched directly by her conviction and devotion.
And we walked away from that gaping grave knowing: whatever we do, wherever we do it, it is to be whole and holy before Him.
Emma Gibson–December 28, 1927- May 20,2012
All are not taken; there are left behind
Living Belovèds, tender looks to bring
And make the daylight still a happy thing,
And tender voices, to make soft the wind:
But if it were not so—if I could find
No love in all this world for comforting,
Nor any path but hollowly did ring
Where ‘dust to dust’ the love from life disjoin’d;
And if, before those sepulchres unmoving
I stood alone (as some forsaken lamb
Goes bleating up the moors in weary dearth)
Crying ‘Where are ye, O my loved and loving?’—
I know a voice would sound, ‘Daughter, I AM.
Can I suffice for Heaven and not for earth?’
At last the entire family stood, like people seeing someone off at the rail station, waiting in the room…
…”So don’t you worry over me. Now, all of you go, and let me find my sleep….”
Somewhere a door closed quietly…
…Deeper in the warm snow hill she turned her head upon her pillow. That was better. Now, yes, now she saw it shaping in her mind quietly, and with serenity like a sea moving along an endless and self-refreshing shore. Now she let the old dream touch and lift her from the snow and drift her above the scarce-remembered bed…
Downstairs, she thought, they are polishing the silver, and rummaging the cellar, and dusting in the halls. She could hear them living all through the house.
“It’s all right.” Whispered Great-grandma, as the dream floated her. “Like everything else in this life, it’s fitting.”
And the sea moved her back down the shore.
~excerpts from Ray Bradbury’s “Death of Great-Grandma” in “Dandelion Wine”
I am so pleased that another one of my Barnstorming stories has found its way into Country Magazine and out to thousands of subscribers–this one is “High Noon in the Veggie Garden.” I believe this is my 17th story published by Reiman Publications (now Readers’ Digest Milwaukee) over the past five years. Thank you to editors Deb Mulvey, Robin Hoffman and Marija Potkonjak for their continued encouragement of my writing and allowing me to gain new friends all over the country. Some write letters to me addressed to Emily Gibson @ Haflinger Farm, Everson, Washington and they find their way to my mailbox in my little country town. I joke that the average age of my readers is 85, but they are some of the most enthusiastic letter writers!
If you haven’t ever seen this magazine, celebrating its twenty fifth year of publication, click on the picture above and it will take you to the on line subscription form. It is a visual treat, and the stories take you right into the country life that we all long for.
Emily @BriarCroft Haflingers
“We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I’ve worked hard in my professional life to be interruptible; my patients, colleagues and staff need to be able to stop my momentum at any time to ask a question, get an opinion or redirect my attention to something more important. As a physician, it is crucial that I remain prioritized from outside my field of vision as I don’t always know where I’m needed most.
In my personal life, I struggle with interruptions happening outside my control. I feel imposed upon when things don’t flow as I hoped or planned– after all, this is MY life.
God interrupts. God interferes. God intervenes. God intrudes. God intercedes.
As He must. And I must be ready, accepting, answering His grace with grace.
It is HIS life living within me, His plan, His timing, His priorities.
“He will wipe the tears from all faces.” It takes nothing from the loveliness of the verse to say that is exactly what will be required.
Someone precious to our family is dying, after living a long and faithful life of loving devotion and service to God and the people she cared for and about. There are tears being shed by those of us watching her grow weaker and drift farther from the shore of the living, hour by hour. Her hands are still warm as we hold her firmly, asking her to open her eyes, acknowledge we are near, not depart from us quite yet.
But her goodbye will come soon and more tears will be shed. We will have lost our anchor of over eight decades and will be adrift in the flood of our weeping.
He knows this is what is required of the living, so is prepared, shoulder and sleeve and hanky at the ready, to stem our flow and wipe away our every tear. Death shall be no more, nor shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain.
As we watch her gathered into His arms and carried away, we know it is lovely and it is good.
And for that we weep tears of joy.
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant -- Emily Dickinson A life well lived is no flat passage. There are bumps and hollows, pinnacles and valleys. Looking up from the path, beyond the next step, it can be surprising to see where the road is leading: sometimes straight up into the blue, sometimes a plunge into an abyss. Living slant is each step taken with eyes focused forward-- no looking back; even if the climb exhausts the descent precipitous, treading unafraid to reach a destination unknown and sure. Live all of life but live it slant.
There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.
Marilynne Robinson in Gilead
There are a thousand thousand people on any given day who cannot think of one sufficient reason to live this life.
There are a few thousand who will decide this is their last day.
There are a few who say goodbye.
It is enough for me to find just one reason to live today.
It is enough for me to help someone else find just one reason today.
One is enough.