Most of us, no matter any religious leanings or beliefs, can become bitter and resentful, but there are some among us who seem otherworldly in that their response to the rigors of this life remains steadfast, abandoned joy. These rare individuals seem, to put it politely, downright peculiar; they don't fit with the rest of us who fret and fuss over every little thing. Why? How can they live in this world and not be like everyone else?
One glimpse of how such beings can be is given us in a poem penned by Ella Wheeler Wilcox in 1916:
But to every mind there openeth,
A way, and way, and away,
A high soul climbs the highway,
And the low soul gropes the low,
And in between on the misty flats,
The rest drift to and fro.
But to every man there openeth,
A high way and a low,
And every mind decideth,
The way his soul shall go.
One ship sails East,
And another West,
By the self-same winds that blow,
'Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales,
That tells the way we go.
Like the winds of the sea
Are the waves of time,
As we journey along through life,
'Tis the set of the soul,
That determines the goal,
And not the calm or the strife.
I first met Jane when I was brought to the Chapel Hill Bible Church by James Abrahamson on a CV pass while a prisoner at Orange Correctional Center in Hillsborough. Jim had known me from when I was a student at UNC and we'd reconnected through another friend when I was transferred to Orange. At this point in my sentence I was getting ready to be released (within 2 to 3 years and so eligible for brief trips off the camp either for recreation or work). This particular time Jim had brought me to a Christ-mas party held at the church and, while there were a few there that I recognized (from when I'd attended before), but no one aside from Jim that I was friendly with. One person I'd worked with as a nursing assistant while in nursing school at UNC and I hoped to sit at her table (it was a pot luck supper) to try and get reacquainted with her and through her with others. I was feeling very uncertain and out of place (after over 21 years inside a prison, being among 'real' people in such a setting was unnerving). When I had plate in hand and came to the area where the tables were, I found that the table where I'd hoped to go was full; indeed even where my host was had no empty chairs.
I looked around with what must have been almost desperation and fear, but then I heard a small voice speak to me, "Young man, would you like to sit with me?" It was Jane (of course) and she glowed with a radiance that pulled me toward her. After sitting with her we began chatting like old friends. When I told her my current address, she didn't bat an eye, but just told me to never mind all that, I was as welcome as anyone else there. By the time we'd finished our meal I was feeling as though Jane and I had known each other for years and when the evening ended I knew I'd made a new friend.
Since that time, whenever I saw her I always made a point of speaking to her, even if only for a moment and giving her a hug. Jane was special even in that; she insisted on "heart-to-heart" hugs and was adamant that this was the only way to hug anyone as hugging heart to heart "...lasted longer..." When she was diagnosed with cancer it seemed the sun was a bit dimmer; it just wasn't what I would want for her and the thought of a life lived without her bubbling, effervescent laughter seemed extraordinarily dull. The last time I saw Jane in this life, the choir went to her home to sing to her. She smiled so in welcoming us into her home and seemed particularly pleased to see me there (we teased each other about her being my girlfriend, that we mustn't let Kathy know). She insisted on a hug from her boyfriend before we left and yes, when I tried to get away with a 'regular' hug, she wasn't having any of that.
Now, that laughter is gone from the world and it is a duller place for it. But Jane would tell me to share some of my own joy with the world that so needs it. I also find it interesting that this mighty prayer warrior who always told me she was praying for me during my ongoing search for work after my release from prison, soon after she went Home to be with the Savior she served so ably I was offered the chance to interview with a company I'd never heard of for a position that I never knew existed. And now I have meaningful work with this same company; interesting don't you think?
Jane, you taught me a lot in the brief time I knew you; thank you for befriending me when you did and thank you for your example that so beautifully reflected that of our King.
See you in the morning.