Saturday, December 1, 2007

Amazing Grace

Patricia A. Higgins • March 30, 1937 - November 22, 2007
[photo by Kin Schilling]

I haven't blogged in a few weeks because, besides arriving back from Kentucky in time to begin Thanksgiving preparations--and to celebrate Henry's 10th birthday--there has been pause for loss, reflection and renewal.

Today we attended the memorial service of Pat Higgins, a longtime Hancock resident, who was always doing for others, the community and her church. Despite lifelong health and financial struggles she always had a smile and warm greeting for everyone she met. The old historic church was full to the rafters, even in the balcony, and it was testament to Pat's life on Earth. I was moved by the crowd and also three unique and lovely eulogies, each capturing her essence in different ways.

What resonated most for me was although Pat was a true Christian in spirit and actions, she also struggled with forgiveness in the face of betrayal, the way each of us does in life. She was described as authentic, real, genuine, a natural healer who "gave her medicine" to whomever she met. There did not seem to be an angry or phony bone in her body and witnessing the diversity of the crowd gathered to honor her, it was evident that she touched many. She never married or had children but she took other children under her wing, as she did for our three. Pat personified the meaning of "it takes a village" and to children was like a modern-day Mother Goose or Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.

A parable of the widow's gift, from Luke:21, was also paraphrased:

And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw a poor widow putting in two small copper coins. And He said, "Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on."

This was the most humbling revelation to me, that Pat gave of herself and her riches and that it was more abundant than gold itself.

James H. Seiberling, my dad, and his sister Mary S. Chapman

As I sat in the service my mind wandered to Ohio where my family was gathered, on the very day, to honor my Aunt Mary who passed the day after Thanksgiving. I was unable to be in Akron but in the spare Hancock Congregational church I was reminded of the Colonial Revival chancel at Westminster Presbyterian Church, where we honored my father five years ago in praise and with the powerful organ music of Louis Vierne, and I was able to let my spirit dwell there, too, and to remember my aunt, my father, my grandparents, all who in life, gave of themselves generously and in different ways.

I could hear the lushly textured and complex organ piece, the "Final" from Symphony No. 1 for Organ in D Minor, Opus 14 by Vierne, in my mind. [NOTE: While no digital recording can replicate the full power and nuances of the live organ, I was able to find one that will give an idea--it is such an obscure piece that it is the only audio reference I could find on the internet (thank you Darren L. Slider from Make certain to play it at full volume!]

It originally came at me like a wall of pure and thunderous joy and celebration when it was played for my Dad (himself an organist), who had requested it for his own memorial service. It was so obscure that we had difficulty finding an organist who could play it. While I heard the Vierne "Final" again in my mind, I could also see the golden words etched into the altar which sits under a large bronze cross at Westminster: In Remembrance of Me.

Just a program note, which I wish I had thought to add five years ago in Dad's memorial service program, the Vierne Final was aptly described by Eric Meece on his historical website about Louis Vierne:

The Final of the First Symphony appeals to us first and foremost as a powerful masterpiece of compact writing, in which few if any notes are wasted. But many listeners are probably unaware of this movement's deeper dimension as the picture of our dramatic human journey together across the pages of history, from the great Revolution to our still-unrealized destiny of freedom in one world. This uplifting music gives us the strength and hope to successfully meet our personal and collective adventures, spiritual as well as secular, as no other music does. In the innocent and hopeful times of 1899, however, neither Vierne nor anyone else yet suspected what terrors and trials both he and all of us would have to endure before we arrived at the promised land.

I find it ironic, also, that Vierne wrote this piece at the dawn of the twentieth century in the year my Grandpa was born, my father and Aunt Mary's father. He was a man of great pragmatic vision and accomplishment, and a firm believer in the principles of democracy and freedom for the individual.

Several weeks ago, on route to Kentucky with our boys, we decided to pass through Akron, quite spur of the moment as the weather did not look good in West Virginia. We were there for no more than 15 hours. The next morning Eli said, "Let's visit Grandpa before we leave" and so we did, spending time at his grave in the early frosty morning, peeling back some of the sod which had edged its way over the stone. It was only later on, when we arrived in Kentucky, that I realized it had been the 5th anniversary of Dad's memorial service (November 2--for some reason all that day I had thought it had been November 4). So I think our "side trip" to Akron was meant to be.

After Pat's service, my husband and I went to visit our neighbor Dot, a dear friend, surrogate Grandmother, and faithful blog reader (from day 1). Sadly, she is failing and in the hospital. I see her house every day from my office window, as I do now, but it is dark and empty. She has never had health problems until recently, at the age of 87, and has never been hospitalized.

As Dot was asleep when we stopped by, we did not want to awaken her. We heard from her family that after the local minister visited her, she said in true Dot style (so we don't know if it was sarcastic or serious), "Turn left for Jesus." I could imagine how she said it and maybe she was actually on her way in her mind, looking for direction. [I naturally Googled the expression and could only find one reference to this phrase, used in detailing a photo on for an obscure sign in Cambridge, England, perhaps for the way to Jesus College. As far as I know, Dot has always been an agnostic, so the reference is pure and original "Dot".]

In the evening we had another Thanksgiving dinner, as my husband had been in Kentucky over the holiday and we invited two couples who are dear to us. For several months I have had two letters with Jaffrey, New Hampshire origins that I found on eBay, one of which related directly to Benjamin Haywood who once lived at the farmstead where the Peter Sawyer family has lived for generations. We gave them to Peter and Ann and as he read from one of the letters, written in 1853, I was struck by its relevance to the day:

East Jaffrey, February 6, 1853

Dear Friend & Sister,

The funeral was at the Meetinghouse yesterday afternoon. And thus we see our friends and neighbors passing away one after another and we are yet spared but we know not how soon we may be called. On that I may profit by these solemn admonitions and while life is spared make a suitable preparation for eternity.

[He then details a squabble that has created discord within his family but concludes with this optimistic hope:]

But the Lord is good who permits these things to be so and will no doubt cause all things to work together for good to those that love him. Oh that I should love him more and serve him better.

H. Gowing



toosh said...

Mommy that was lovely. I am so thankful that you were able to grieve in the best way you know how. Pat will be missed...we still never had another tea party with her, maybe we can have one soon in her honor. I believe everyone has a purpose in life, they are given different roads to embark upon and it's those roads that lead to where they need to be as people. I am proud of our little niche-and i am proud to have you as my mother and my light. It's been hard for all of us recently with different obstacles hurtled at us but i promise that it will get better. It already has. I love you and i want you to continue to embark on your current road.

logoslibrary said...

Thank you for linking to my MP3 arrangement of the Vierne even though I failed to do the work justice. It's not a performance on a real organ--it's a "model" using sound samples from an organ which is much smaller than, say, a Cavaille-Coll. I like to think of it as analogous to a model rocket which is far less than 1:1 scale and not nearly fast or powerful enough to break the earth's gravitational pull, but which can at least, under the right conditions, get a fair distance off the ground.

Darren L. Slider

Wildside said...

Hi, I dropped by to let you know I've just finished thumbing through a copy of your book -- but also am struck by the similarities of your post today.

We too have just recently lost someone dear in Kentucky, oddly enough, someone with a very similar name to your friend Pat, and who also gave much of herself.

Sympathies to you in this time of loss...

I've dropped by here from time to time so will most likely be back again at a later date.

Wildside said...

Oh! A P.S.

Meant to say wonderful job on the book!