My third novel, Bleak Landing, released two years ago this month. Its first page contains an unusually lengthy dedication page. I chose to dedicate that book to the pastors and pastors’ wives who have influenced me in a positive way throughout my life. There are ten couples on the list. I suppose it’s an unusual thing to do, but I knew I’d never write enough books for each to have their own and I wanted to honor them all.
In recent weeks, two of the people on that list of twenty have died. In May, my friend and mentor Linda Letellier left this world for the next. I’m thankful to have seen her last fall and for modern technology which allowed me to view her funeral service online from Mountain Lake, Minnesota. The cover of the program showed a beautiful picture of her pulling biscuits from the oven, holding them toward the camera with her huge, hospitable smile. It said, “I’m home. I’m safe. I like it here.”
More recently, we said good-bye to Donna Lee, who was my pastor’s wife when I was growing up in Amaranth. In a packed-out little country church, we felt inspired by stories of the impact made through her humble, obedient life. She touched many hearts. We walked away encouraged to never let go of God, no matter what life throws at us.
I sometimes wish I lived in a place and time of tolling bells. In our world of rapid communication, we see no need for happy church bells to ring out on wedding days, or for somber funeral bells to let us know someone in the community has passed away. I think the clanging of those bells would serve as helpful and regular reminders that we are here for only a short time, that our turn is coming. The bells remind us we are all part of one another.
Often, people don’t want those reminders. I happen to believe they are healthy. If we live each day remembering that the next funeral could be our own, wouldn’t we live differently? I don’t mean in the “life is short, grab all the gusto you can get” kind of way. I mean it in the “what will really matter after I’m gone?” kind of way.
On the day you die, will the things you’re worried about today matter? Your fears and cares? The grudges you’re hanging on to? What do you hope people remember about you? When stories are told, will they be of love, generosity, and grace from your hand? Or will you be remembered for lesser things…your hobbies, your possessions, your obsessions? Will the funny stories about you be tainted with a hint of bitterness or will they be shared with pure and honest admiration? Will others aspire to be more like you? Will those who know you best have sweet memories to inspire and encourage them on their journeys? Will they know how much you loved them?
Each day brings you one step closer to that day. What’s one thing you can do this day to make that day everything you hope it will be? Name it, then do it. What’s stopping you?
No one has said it more poetically than John Donne: “…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”