Our heroes

At the July meeting of the Vestry, Charles Kinney shared the following reflection:

Dear Friends, 

Several weeks ago as I considered what might be an appropriate reflection to discuss with you tonight, I remembered that my Dad had written a letter to my immediate family and me two weeks before he died in Sept. 1996. Unable to recollect his precise words, I thought that I should dig it out of my files to see whether he had any pertinent advice on how to live life better. I was able to retrieve the three-page hand-written letter from the chaos of my correspondence, and I read and re-read it carefully.

I was struck by how peaceful, upbeat and forward-looking the letter was.  In his beautiful script he describes the trip across Pennsylvania that he and Mother were taking, saying – “The route 220 north from I-68 was quite lovely. Farms and verdant gardens of corn and fields of good hay and alfalfa, all uniform and healthy. No dry areas this year. Fields after fields with no advertising signs or road trash. I was really taken by this part of PA.”

Then he segued into describing a large project that he was supervising at his church removing trees for a new parking lot – “…we have been cutting up the limbs and trunks so the lot can be cleared off and grading can start. I think there will be about 8-10 truckloads of debris and firewood to move out. Probably I’ll get a little help from some guys at the church if I really twist arms…  No volunteers yet.”

Then he backtracked to telling about how well the corn, and tomatoes, and pumpkins were doing in the little family garden, and that he expected that they would hay one more time later that year, hoping to overlap with good weather.

He concluded with “Hope the kid’s soccer season ends with success and good fun!  Drop me a letter when you get time.  Love, Dad”

Dad was a thoughtful and kind man, a great leader, incisive, who could be tough as nails when he needed to be and yet equally gentle and caring.

As I pondered these nostalgic thoughts, I was jolted by Tuck’s email this past Friday, telling us that Skip MacMichael had died the day before. Over the past two years, I have had the privilege of meeting with Skip for several long, probing discussions in his study where he shared perspectives on family, the church, organized religion, the military, and the state of the world.  

I realized how many strengths these two men shared in common, and how each man now seems “great” to me.  But what makes a person “great”?  I wondered what I might distill from a biblical passage.  I started with a title of a musical anthem that I had sung, based on the photography series by James Agee and Walker Evans in 1930 – “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men [and our fathers that begat us.]  I learned that that title was sourced from Chapter 44 of the Book of Ecclesiasticus celebrating the heroes of Israel’s past.  The author describes the traits of some of those heroes and concludes by saying:

         “Our forefathers were men of loyalty, whose good deeds have never been forgotten.  Their prosperity is handed on to their descendants, and their inheritance to future generations…” 

Moving to the New Testament, Paul, in his letter to the Galatians that we heard in Sunday’s lectionary, instructs us all in how to emulate the examples of Dave, and Skip, and Paula, and Charlie and all our forebears:

         “…but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.  So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up.  So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”

Amen.