Sunday, December 14, 2014

Remembering the life of Ann Peabody

Mid-morning yesterday, my sister and I learnt that our dear family friend, and childhood Sunday school teacher, had passed away. Her husband of sixty-six years would be attending my brother’s wedding solo, and it made our heart’s ache. The descriptor words like kind, and beautiful, and sweet, though they fit her, are much too light, and empty, and easy to describe the woman she was.

Her presence was captivating.

When I was with her, I felt loved.  And I felt a longing in the depths of my heart to know the love that ran so naturally through her veins, in her actions, and off her lips.

I desired to pursue whatever she was pursuing. It drew people to her.

There were gestures and actions at the time that probably felt insignificant to her. Little Bible lessons she taught us with her faithful blue felt board, the reminder to have manners during snack time (‘take closest cookie on the platter though the furthest may be fatter’), quiet lunches spent in her home on the church property... things that were simple, but I remember with great fondness.

I was reflecting this morning on her life, imagining her as I remember her as a little girl, her long, classic skirts neatly pressed, and fitted around her petite frame, her thick, white hair framed perfectly around a face that, even at six, I knew was so lovely that I remember hoping I would be as good looking as her in my later years. Yet, it wasn’t her outward appearance I remembered most, it was her love for God, and her genuine ability to translate that into a love for people.

And then, I had a great epiphany. Mrs. Peabody’s life, the part I knew, at least, was simple. She was a Sunday school teacher, and keeper of the church grounds with her husband. It was a humble and quiet life from outside appearances, even maybe to her.

But, it was not a small existence to those who knew her.

I fear too much pressure is put on youth nowadays to achieve great things. I must’ve been asked 1,000 times as a girl what I wanted to be when I grew up. And I, in exchange, have probably asked the question 1,000 times now to myself, and to others. And worse, they all promised I could be whatever I wanted to be. How untrue that feels now that I am grown.

There is this deep longing in my heart, and probably yours, to be someone worth remembering.

“If only I could accomplish something great,” I have often thought, imagining some novel I’ve written on the New York Bestseller list, or saving orphans in Africa with tender love and nurturing.
And in the midst of striving to be someone great, I have often had a bleak realization that my life is unfolding somewhat ordinarily.

I have read accounts of Hollywood stars who have made it in the cut throat industry, and their stories all seem to be similar, waiting in line after line at audition after audition, the rejection of not being good enough, or fitting the part, disappointment, and then, one day, the big break.

I confess, I have often felt like just another person standing in line at an audition, feeling like maybe I don’t have what it takes, feeling small and purposeless, wondering if I’ll ever get my big break.

But, reflecting on the life of Ann Peabody, I have to laugh at my immaturity.  Because, when we clear away all the striving, the daily to-do lists, the keeping up of appearances, the frivolous, life consuming worries, we realize the formula to a life worth remembering is actually quite simple.
We have only to look to people like Ann Peabody, people who remind us to love God, and let it translate into a love for others.

Mrs. Peabody will always matter to me. I will tell my children of her. I will teach them the lessons I learned on that old blue felt board, and the lessons I learned watching her.

And, I hope, I can continue to dream lofty dreams, but I hope more so, I can gain the courage to be satisfied with who I am now in the midst of my ordinary life by choosing the way of love.

As I have seen in the life of Ann, there is nothing ordinary about a life teeming with the love of God. And if the world thought your life ordinary, than I want to be ordinary like you. Here’s to you, sweet Ann.

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