Friday, October 3, 2014

QOTM...*: Robert Franklin Leslie

(*Quote of the Month)

It seems to me that only leaves possess
the secret of a beautiful death.
                                                           
                           ~~Robert Franklin Leslie

Photos taken Sept 28-Oct. 1
Sometimes the simplest little quotes jump right off a page and into my heart. Such is the case with this one. I was cruising along in nature writer Robert Franklin Leslie’s simple little The Bears and I, and was halted by this lovely (and mostly true) reflection. Perhaps it strikes me all the more because I happen to be surrounded as I write by nature’s fall color frenzy going on around me here in the northwoods of Michigan. Maple’s oranges and reds blaze around me, along with oak’s scarlets and russets, and aspen’s, tamarack’s and birch’s golds, all interspersed with the various evergreens of the conifers. I walk the woods these days spellbound by its almost aching beauty, almost asking God with each step what possessed him to even think of creating this astounding display.

So the quote grabs me, “…only leaves possess the secret of a beautiful death.” Yet I must admit it has not been completely true in my experience. As a pastor for many years, I have been able to observe many deaths up close and personal, and some of them have been beautiful as well.

I think of a couple old saints who died during my pastoral tenure in Minnesota. One was Joe, who lived into his upper nineties, a gentle and thoughtful soul who always had candy in his pockets for kids on Sunday mornings. I once asked him what he attributed his longevity to, and he quipped just as fast as a blink, “Well, I like people, and I never eat cold potato salad.” Alrighty then, thought I… I’ll have to remember that one! His death was beautiful, as was the life celebration that followed by those who loved him.

Another beautiful death was Hilda’s. Single and childless all her life, she lived as a constant blessing to others around her, often giving the proverbial shirt off her back. She was fairly poor and lived in a mobile home on the east side, but when I heard the story that, before she gave her church offerings, she regularly laundered and crisply starched and pressed her greenbacks, just to give of her best to her Master, I became a lifelong member of her fanclub. She is one of the first I want to see when I get to heaven. Like Joe, her death was also beautiful – she was ready to go and, a smile on her face, ready to let go.

My own mother’s was another. Wilma also had this way of living a full life in the midst of great simplicity. All of us in the family had this sense of the blessing and goodness not only of her life, but even of the last hard years, and even the manner of her passing. When some of us met with her pastor the day following her death, the pastor’s first words to me were, “I am so sorry.” And I was surprised to find myself saying that it occurred to me that, except for the fact that we would miss Mom greatly, most of us were finding very little in this circumstance to be sorry about: Mom was at peace with God, at peace with the world, and beloved of absolutely everyone who knew her. We all should be so blessed when it is time for each of us to lay it all down.

The arresting beauty of an autumn forest, and the joy it can bring, seems kin to the joy that is expressed in lives and deaths like that of Joe, Hilda and Wilma. Yes, of course, there have been many deaths I have walked alongside that have not been so beautiful, and I suppose that brings me back to my quote of the month. Some deaths can be beautiful, some not. But here in the woods today? Today, everywhere I look I see only loveliness. Talk about ‘finishing well,’ or going out ‘in a blaze of 
                                                     glory!’ Maybe, overall, leaves DO possess the secret after all.

And maybe, just maybe, God whispers through them to us the very same secret, that there can be beauty, even hope, in such a thing as death.

~~RGM, September 29, 2014

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