In this moment, I am weaving together the threads of your Memorial Service. By happenstance and circumstance, you have crossed my path. Your death has opened me to the circle of your life.
All 94 years of it.
I did not know you while you were alive.
I am getting to know you after the fact – listening to the echo of your still small voice in the thoughts, words, deeds, and loved ones you left behind. So, this process feels forensic. Like a kind of cold case.
Some of the voices to whom you were connected will endeavor to shed some light on the subject (you) at your service this Sunday. Some of those souls have arrived in my life solely because you departed.
In this moment, I am noticing that we happen to have both been born in early September – just a few weeks shy of the Fall Equinox. You would see the light of 94 more Septembers – embodied for nearly a century.
It is fitting that you have come into my orbit in the spring season of equinox (Latin for ‘equal night’).
Your 94 years appear to have had their equal share of shadows and light.
It is something to have been born between two World Wars, and on the cusp of a Great Depression – many moons before the birth of the Civil Rights Movement. To then live to see the fall of the Berlin wall, the rise of the world wide web, the birth of the text message, and the first US President of color (both terms).
“It’s amazing all the things I’ve lived through”, you were known to say.
It is also something to outlive almost all your friends and family. To be the last name standing on many of your loved ones’ Memorial Service bulletins – right next to the phrase ‘survived by’.
And yet, you rejoiced in having survived to see your twilight years – and your swan song surely contained its share of major chords.
In this moment, I am glancing at the beginning of your end-of-life planning notes.
You were a rainbow baby – not unlike my wife and I’s firstborn. A ray of light birthed after a period of deep darkness for your mother (an infant loss).
Your birth was in a teaching hospital, witnessed by an audience of students; you often said “I had an audience when I was born, and I’ve enjoyed one ever since.”
You wished for music to be a significant part of your death (your Memorial); my sense is that music was a significant part of your life.
You were born a generation before bebop – and lived almost two generations after the birth of hip-hop. Almost all the genres of music I’ve played in my life were birthed in your lifetime.
In this moment, I am in the process of becoming an active-duty Air Force chaplain.
Your first husband was a member of the 15th Air Force based in Italy during WWII, whose plane likely crashed in the Pacific Ocean in February of 1945 – 15 months into your marriage. He and 10 other airmen were (and still are) missing-in-action.
In a single moment, you went from newlywed to widow.
Joyfully, you would circle back around on love, and survive to see wedded bliss again.
Still, it would have been my honor (and duty) to stand at attention for you – as we service members often do for the families of the fallen (Gold Star survivors).
And it is my honor to give you my undivided attention in this moment – and my pleasure to also give you one more audience to enjoy.
You would not give birth physically in this life.
But you would adopt two children into your family circle and love them into adulthood. Though you would outlive them both, their light would live on in your heart.
You and your 2nd husband Charles would also help give birth to a small society of Unitarian Universalists in Howard County in the early 1960’s.
That little light (UUCC) is still shining, though it is not so little anymore. That technicolor dream has become a reality and force for equality in that same community – though I can’t imagine that back then you could have necessarily pictured actually having an assistant minister of color (even in your wildest dreams).
It’s amazing the things you lived through.
In this moment, my not-so-little 18-month-old son is playing havoc with my laptop cord – having unplugged it more times than I could ever hope to remember.
I will never forget the equinox in March of 2017 – where I shared with the congregation the news of my family’s miscarriage that previous September, and the baby we were expecting in the September to come. The shadows reflected and the light expected – both events (our circle of life) centered right around the equinox.
Equal night. Equal light.
So it is fitting as I write you, that this season of equinox finds Sarah and I expecting new life yet again.
Our 2nd bundle of joy is slated to emerge in the light of mid-August, give or take.
A midsummer night’s dream, maybe (the sweetest kind). Or perhaps, arriving by dawn’s early light.
Another embraceable yin-yang (equal black, equal white).
In any case (by every grace), I am grateful to be able to help celebrate the circle of your life and honor your death – as Sarah and I are drawing our family circle a little wider.
In this moment, I am grateful to be a small part of your sunset – or sunrise, depending upon your vantage point.
Whatever dreams may come, now that you have shuffled off this mortal coil – may they be sweet.
May you be encircled in love – and forever amazed by the Spirit of Life.
And know that your UUCC roots are holding you close, even as your wings have set you free.
Into the wild blue yonder, fittingly (climbing high into the sun).
Love and Light,
Beautiful words, A. MG
Eileen would be so pleased and honored with your tribute to her. She was a strong and smart woman who was instrumental in giving birth to what we now know as UUCC. I was fortunate to meet with her several times as we were writing the UUCC for the congregation’s 50th anniversary. She herself had written unpublished UUCC histories periodically that were very helpful to us.
I am sure you will provide her with a wonderful memorial service. See you Sunday! Betty Jackson
Yes, I find your woods beautiful and touching. They tie together a long life full of Eileen’s and Charlie’s energy. A beautiful tribute to one of our founders. Ned Tillman
Reading these words, I was remembering how much pleasure Eileen used to take in her periodic visits to RE classes to recount the story of people coming together in Howard County to establish a Unitarian Universalist congregation. This was just prior to the unveiling of a top secret enterprise — the establishment of the new city named Columbia. It was an exciting time and Eileen was a central character in the Unitarian Universalist chapter of this story. I recall seeing the passion and pride that Eileen displayed when she visited the RE class I was teaching and told her founders’ story. I don’t know if Eileen was our congregational president just once or if she served in that role for more than one term. Linda also reminded me of how Charles and Eileen together for so many years were the primary supporters of an ongoing addiction recovery support group in Howard county that provided an alternative to the Christian grounded AA groups.
Congratulations on the upcoming addition to your family!