Catfish Row, oil on canvas, Marcia Blalock Axson, 1968
In my post "My Sister Flies Away" on Sunday I wrote:
"My sister's funeral will be on Thursday. She had very little but leaves great riches in her loving children, Catharine, Megan, and Casey. I cannot help but think she left so much undone, so much potential that this world will never know. It is our loss. It is my loss. It is also my hope that none of us leave this place with lives undone, that in the striving there is the victory."
While talking to my Aunt Lib at the service about this very thing, my tiny brain exploded. It happens. I had a revelation. My sister, the teacher, and her students had something to teach me. I am an older dog after all.
More than half of the chapel was filled with students that my sister had taught and who loved her. I had several emails from parents and kids and her obituary guestbook is filled with loving notes of what my sister meant to them. Many came up to the family to express their sympathy and admiration for Marcia. I wish I had more comforting words for them but I am still in disbelief she is, indeed, gone.
So what is the purpose of a life? We plan and scheme and set ourselves on a path, but few of us realize such detailed dreams. I do believe that when life is taken as a whole, and no more or less than what it offers, we will always find our way. Marcia died with few possessions. She had no money, no home of her own, not even a car at the time.
The things she did not have mattered not; she touched many children's lives, helping them along this rocky and sometimes desperate road we all travel. A hand to hold, a kind word, a shoulder to cry on. She instilled the love of literature in many, and planted some quiet seeds of knowledge in others that will bloom when no one is there to see it. This is the lesson she taught me on this rainy Thursday afternoon, that her riches were the young minds and futures of these children, and she loved them as her own.
My dad Talmadge is gone. My older brother David is gone. My sister Marcia is now gone. Three remain: my mother Betsy, younger brother Mark Talmadge, and myself. This all seems very strange to me, that half of my family is silent and I will not see them, hear them, or touch their hands on this earth again.
Yes, they all live within my memory but one day even that will fade and vanish. My sister's life, one in a billion links, will go on long after we are all gone and forgotten. Something born of her life today and carried forward by her students will not only survive but flourish. And in that bright light, she does have eternal life.
The following words are from my well-worn copy of "How Green Was My Valley" by Richard Llewellyn. These few excerpts are from last passage in the book. Mr.Gruffydd (Griffith) was the narrator's pastor and mentor:
It is strange that the Mind will forget so much, and yet hold a picture of flowers that have been dead for thirty years and more.
But you have gone now, all of you, that were so beautiful when you were quick with life. Yet not gone, for you are still a living truth inside my mind. So how are you dead, my brothers and sisters, and all of you, when you live with me as surely as I live myself.
Are my friends all dead, then, and their voices a glory in my ears?
No, and I will stand to say no, and no again.
In blood, I say no.
Is Mr. Gruffydd dead, him, that one of rock and flame, who was friend and mentor, who gave me his watch that was all in the world he had, because he loved me? Is he dead, and the tears still wet on my face and my voice cutting through rocks in my throat for minutes while I tried to say good-bye, and, O God, the words were shy to come, and I went from him wordless, in tears and with blood.
Is he dead?
For if he is, then I am dead, and we are dead, and all of sense a mockery.
How green was my Valley, then, and the Valley of them that have gone.
(P.S. In Mount Pleasant in the small subdivision of Chelsea Park, you will find Llewellyn Road. I named this street and most others in this neighborhood.)