My mother-in-law died last week.
It is, for our family, the end of an era. The last of my spouse’s and my parents to die, the last of our kids’ grandparents. The end of a generation. We are in a transition of sorts, even though our daily life is unchanged.
What is somewhat remarkable is that Jane was 100 years old. She has outlived most every one of her generation, so the end of a generation thing is not true just for our family, but for all of us. She lived longer than most people in human history have ever lived.
One hundred years. A century of life.
Jane was born on a farm on the Tennessee River, and except for her years at Agnes Scott College in Georgia, lived her entire life in eastern Tennessee, in two houses.
Jane was born before women had the right to vote. Her birth year, 1914, was the year of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, which started the events of World War I. It was the year that Babe Ruth joined the major leagues. It was the year of the first electric street light and the last passenger pigeon.
She lived through so much history from her homey perch in Loudon, Tenn., and that was always the center of the universe for her, even as the decades unfolded. Two world wars, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, Iraq and Afghanistan all played out far away, but with fingers reaching deep into the community. From outhouse to indoor plumbing, from horse and buggy to men on the moon, through 17 American presidencies, she saw it all. The granddaughter of slave owners and the wife of the mayor who integrated the city schools, rapid scientific and social change were the norm for her life, but she always viewed it through a local perspective.
It was Jane’s approach to life that instructs and inspires me, and, I think, offers us words of faith. For as much as Jane was deeply rooted in the hills of Tennessee, and as much as she loved her family history and her own, Jane was always living for today and tomorrow. She outlived a husband, two companions late in life, both of her younger sisters and all her contemporaries. But rather than becoming isolated, she made new friends – younger ones, who might outlive her.
Losses were many, including late in life, her ability to drive, and eventually the move to assisted living. But losses were briefly mourned as she turned toward what was next. Yesterday wasn’t worth worrying about – there was today to live and tomorrow to plan for! Can’t drive to handbell practice? Get a ride, and, better yet, start a handbell choir at the senior residence. Having a hard time with balance? Get a walking stick – never call it a cane in her presence – a bright red one with a parrot for the handle and keep going. Granddaughter doesn’t want to get married on the family farm? Get a passport and, at 89, fly to Ireland alone for the wedding.
Keep moving forward.
Would that we would all lean into the future – God’s future – with such enthusiasm. We can all learn a bit about looking with eagerness to the future instead of trying to hold on to the past, or even today. We can’t recreate history, but we can co-create, with God, the future. Many congregations try to recreate the 1950s church life, but is that what God wants? Maybe we are to be joyfully living a new vision into 2015 and beyond.
The Rev. Dr. Joanne Sizoo is pastor at Grace Presbyterian Church in Fort Mill, near the intersection of S.C. 160 and Gold Hill Road. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.