Carol Megathlin: Many gifts, one spirit

June 16, 2014 

May I ask the ladies a question? You know the feeling you get when you've been on a tour of homes and come back to your own house? It looks inadequate, unsophisticated, and downright disappointing. What do you do with that same feeling when you walk out of a friend's memorial service?

Isle of Hope Methodist church was filled to the rafters on a fine Saturday morning in early June. We had come to mark the close of the earthly part of Louise Wood Smith's life.

We all know a Louise, a woman whose manner is always warm and gentle, a woman of pure and compassionate heart whose goodness seems to infuse her every thought, word, and deed. During the service, her two sons and five grandchildren rose up and called her blessed. Her husband cherished her so thoroughly that he had written her a love note every day since January 1st, simply because it was the year they would celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

What kind of life draws 27 friends to travel from Pennsylvania to Savannah, persuades close to a thousand tongues to join in singing "How Great Thou Art" and inspires pastor Meg Procopio to deliver the most moving eulogy of her tenure?

What do we do when we walk out of the church and back into our own lives? Worse, what if we've already lived most of that life -- scarred with shortcomings and flawed by failing the people we love? And the only raw material available to improve ourselves is simply what we are, who we've always been?

Absent divine assistance, we are able to better ourselves only so much. By the time we can see the folds in the Grim Reaper's robe, we've written our story -- chagrined, perhaps, to doubt the worth of whatever pillars of accomplishment we might point to. It can be disheartening.

Louise was the kind of person who would have laid a hand on our shoulders and leaned to look up into our troubled eyes. She would have reminded us of our unique strengths, perhaps quoting the 12th chapter of 1st Corinthians:

"For in fact the body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,' is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, 'Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,' is it therefore not of the body? … And the eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you,' nor can the head say to the feet, 'I have no need of you.'"

How much time and sacrifice would that simple gesture have taken, to encourage a self-doubting brother? Very little. Perhaps therein lies the surest evidence of a worthwhile life: our little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.

We are made better by having known people like Louise. The end of such well-lived lives sharpens our awareness that soon enough our summons will come "to join the innumerable caravan which moves to that mysterious realm … "

Until then, we would do well to raise our heads and affirm with St. Paul in Romans: "Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them … "

Or, in the words attributed to an Indian poet, "When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life in such a manner that when you die the world cries and you rejoice."

Carol Megathlin, formerly of Americus, is a Georgia writer who now lives in Savannah.

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