A very dear friend died this week. In her will, she asked her preacher friends to write something, and I wrote the following. I thought I would share it with you; you can see the sort of positive impact you have on your pastors. The poem that's quoted in it I used as part of our devotions at staff meeting this week. Some of you have seen or heard me speak of her book Dollbaby, in which she tells about her recovery from the sexual abuse she experienced as a child. Linde Grace White was born November 15, 1943 and died January 24, 2017.
My thoughts on Linde Grace White
(Well, some of them; it would be quite a long document if I wrote all of them.)
When talking to some folks at church about Linde Grace and her death, I told them that a star had fallen from my sky. She may not have appreciated that image, however; she would probably rather be thought of as a starfish: crawling slowly on the bottom, the weight of the ocean above, but with the image of a light in the sky.
For she was a poet. She observed life with a keen eye and told us about it in carefully crafted words. Specifically, she observed her own life carefully and shared with us what she learned. In her 1992 poem, "How to Look at a Monster," she revealed what it was like to uncover the horror of her own childhood and what made that work possible:
You know it's there.
You feel it heaving, huge, invisible – so far.
You smell it like garbage three days old in July.
You distinguish some of the odors: musty hot newsprint,
Coffee grounds thrown out in grapefruit rinds,
Rotten vegetables, ant-encrusted pork chop bones.
You hear it lumbering about, breaking your valuables,
And your heart, snorting, farting, and growling
Low in its throat.
You step on some unidentified part of it – barefoot –
And draw back in shock.
It's cold, clammy, scaly, too hot, too soft, too squishy,
Wet, yet dry, confusing touch – but you're used to that.
How you need those 3-D glasses, two-toned,
From the movies thirty years ago,
You get a friend – someone you're sure of –
And looking over his shoulder, and holding on very tightly,
You open both eyes and have a look.
We Christians believe the Word of God is incarnate, made flesh: above all in Jesus of Nazareth. That implies that our own flesh – our own lives – can also embody the word of God. I think that Linde Grace discovered a great deal about the wonder and terror and tenderness and intimacy of God simply by the witness of her own life. Oh, she knew the Scriptures – for sure! – and she knew the Faith as we sing it. She rarely opened the hymnal, for she knew by heart all the verses of all the hymns. But the Christian Faith is meant to be lived, not merely known about, and so it was in the glory and darkness and ordinariness of her own life that Linde Grace knew God.
And she told us about that glory and darkness and ordinariness in her poetry and her books and in conversation. I don't remember her ever trying to teach me a lesson; I remember her telling me stories from which I learned something. If only I had written them all down! For example, I have often related to people how they can love others after a difficult breaking apart when I tell about her relationship with the family of her ex-husband. "I divorced only one Bates," she said. "Not all of you."
I've written as though her life were a lesson plan; that's wrong. Life is its own reward, as she discovered as she worked through pain and shadow and fear, and at the same time gave of herself in her work as a teacher and her service as an Elder in the Church, loved her children and adored her grandchildren, and was deeply devoted to her friends. Goodness, the woman knew how to love! She, who as a child was used when she should have been loved, loved us who were, I'm sure, stars in her sky. "Love one another as I have loved you," said the Lord Jesus. That is the word that was incarnate in the life of Linde Grace White.
Robert A. Keefer