I recently took a couple of days to look through the obituary columns of the Cleveland Daily Banner. I notice the age of the deceased then I look to see if I know the person or their family. Strange habit I am sure, but it makes one realize their own mortality.
My mom called last week to tell me my Aunt Olga had passed away. My schedule would not permit me to travel to Cleveland. I am just too busy. That is perhaps the worst excuse possible. I use to joke with the late Gary Davis, "It is going to be a good day. I woke up and my name is not in the obituaries." Even that attempt at humor has become stale. Folks are in fact dying, and the ages are uncomfortably close to mine.
You know I think a lot about my late father Francis Bowman, about former teaching colleagues like Gary Davis and Gary Curtis. I miss them. I have faith that I will see them again, and it is what inspires me. I have mythical conversations with my dad. I even argue with him in my mind. What would he think of the Atlanta Braves now? He was one who believed Mickey Mantle was the most complete baseball player he ever watched. He was also a Ryne Sandberg fan. What would he think of Andruw Jones, Derek Jeter, or Alex Rodriquez? I guess we will have eternity to discuss it. Maybe that is why the movie Field of Dreams touched so many men, much like A Walk to Remember touched so many women.
All lives have a story and are worth remembering. We are created in the image of God, and that fact alone means we have significance and value. Americans have an added importance, at least in our minds; we are a people of destiny. We may not be Jewish, but we have embraced the new covenant as heirs to the Son, and we see our nation guided by timeless principles and ideals with God's hand in our lives. So we remember who we are and we remember that the strength of our nation is in the identity of the individuals who make up our country. As a melting pot of cultures we are strengthened, not weakened, as some would have us believe. September 11th reminded our nation, we also must remind ourselves on occasion.
My Aunt Olga was a refugee. That term may not be meaningful, we could use the term immigrant, but she was much more than that. Her village in Poland was taken over by the Soviet Union. Her parents sent her to the United States to escape. They believed in what America was about, and they understood to live in America was hope. Hope was all they could afford. I have been told that they had plans to migrate here as well, but finances and the power of the Soviet Union government kept them from escaping. So Aunt Olga grew up in America without her mother and father.
She met my Uncle Paul ("Dink") and they were married. They had three children, Paul Jr., Linda and Bert. Their home was a loving home, and they had an active church life. Religion was important to both of them. While many take freedom of worship for granted, I am sure Aunt Olga had a much more profound interest in faith then many of her friends and neighbors.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, my Aunt Olga's sister was able to track her down. (Imagine hearing from a sister you have not spoken with in nearly 50 years.) Not only that, her mother was still alive. She decided to go visit her family. But getting the necessary paperwork took time, and by the time Aunt Olga was able to visit her home, her mother had passed away. My heart would have broken, but I never heard my Aunt Olga complain.
About a year later her sister and nephew visited her in Cleveland. I was teaching and coaching baseball at Trewhitt Junior High School at the time. I let the nephew "coach" third base. I had a pretty good team so we scored a bunch of runs, and I think we created a lifelong baseball fan that day---a southern version of Glasnost.
The next time you read an obituary, remember that is not merely a name you are reading--- it is a person. Someone with a lifetime of memories, both ones they created or shared with people lucky enough to be friends, family or neighbors.
The last time I visited Cleveland, I attended a wonderful worship service led by Kelvin Page at Westmore Church of God. Westmore is a church on fire for God, and Kelvin Page is a man wise enough to let God be God. He sensed that someone needed prayer, and he invited those to quietly slip out and pray. Someone grabbed my hand, and asked me to take them to the altar. When I did, I heard the most beautiful prayer from a former university professor that I had studied under. His prayer: God as I get older, please allow me to remember your Glory and please let me remember what my mother taught me about your love and mercy all the days of my life.
It does not get any easier than that, a simple but profound prayer as a man nears his final days. I pray that God grants his prayer. I hope he grants your prayers as well. Bradley County has a religious heritage as does our nation. This Fourth of July, remember those in your past that shared it with you!