Mrs. B

‘This is the way, walk in it’

I saw Shana yesterday, and even though we had not communicated since she was a young child and we would not have recognized each other on the street, there was an instant connection on my part. (I cannot presume that she would feel that way, for she was looking into the face of a stranger on the day that she was burying her father, the only parent she really knew.)

Isaiah 30:21 “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, this is the way, walk in it.”

{This article was written the day after our friend, the Reverend James E. Raglin, was buried in June, 2009.}

I saw Shana yesterday, and even though we had not communicated since she was a young child and we would not have recognized each other on the street, there was an instant connection on my part. (I cannot presume that she would feel that way, for she was looking into the face of a stranger on the day that she was burying her father, the only parent she really knew.)

After the funeral service, my friend, Winnie Jennings, took me to the family because I told him, sadly, that I probably would not recognize her, and even though he pointed me in the right direction, I went to her niece (Lydia’s daughter) and called her “Shana”. Shana’s niece said, “Lots of people say I look like my aunt.” Then I looked beyond her and saw the beautiful, stately, classy Shana. When I first met her, in 1976, she was a feisty, precious, precocious, sausage-eating toddler. (Before he left for work each morning, Jim would fry scads of sausage patties. All through the morning, Shana would shimmy up the oven door and get one piece of sausage at a time and nibble on it as she played, “read” her books and looked through the Sears Christmas catalogue.) We had an instant connection then too, for, you see, after I sent my three children off to school, I spent each day at the Raglins until my work was done. How natural that seemed to Shirley and Shana and me…….and how strange it must have seemed to others. The work, the emotions, the cancer, the questions, the hope, the despair, the laughter, the tears, the prayers…..those things didn’t leave time for evaluating the thoughts of others. We walked out each day out in a natural, family way…..we were family.

I had not met Shirley or Jim or Shana before “that Sunday” in 1976. That Sunday began in the normal way for me; normal meant getting three children fed and ready for Sunday School (after being at Saturday Night Group four or five hours the night before), preparing Sunday lunch, setting the table, settling arguments, taking care of the dog, and gathering Sunday School materials. The only thing unusual was that I had in the back of my mind the fact that I had heard that Shirley Raglin was going to give a concert at the Baptist Church, and I wanted to hear her. I had been told that she had a fantastic voice. (The Raglins had moved to Harlan the year that we had left Harlan to go to Nashville while Jerry’s dad was ill.)

To get to the church on time for an early afternoon performance, I would have to work fast to get lunch and clean-up done in time to go.

I was in “fast mode”, but I barely made it. Everyone was seated, and Shirley was at the piano when I rushed in. There was a seat next to Gene Goss, on the right side of the church, so I sat down and thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful, thrilling voice of Shirley Raglin.

I had no idea that the concert was a fund-raiser for cancer treatment money; I was in shock and mortified by the fact that I had not one cent, not a check, not even a purse. When I saw the collection plate coming I was embarrassed and felt devastated.

Right then a God-encounter happened.

I went from devastation to enlightenment to peace as the offering plate was passed in the pews. In my mind, the words from the scripture appeared to me as “living” words, “Silver and gold, have I none, but such as I have, give I thee.” In a split second God had spoken, and I threw a question toward the sky (feeling emptier of possessions than I have ever felt), “What do I have?”

The words came to me, clearly, unmistakably, “She is your sister.” Like a person coming out of a coma, as the plate passed through my hands, I knew, with an indescribable peace, what I was to do. “Oh, that’s easy, I thought, “if this were Anne Willis, my sister, I would go help her.”

So the next morning, I knocked on Shirley’s door, introduced myself, and told her I was there to help her. She was resting in her bed, and she didn’t seem one bit surprised that I had come. I cleaned the kitchen, set the table for supper (everyone except 2-year-old Shana was in school at lunch time); I ironed, folded clothes, and Shana and I began our friendship. I did this for weeks.

I was fairly new in town, pretty much unknown, and I’m sure the church ladies who came to visit Shirley must have wondered, “Who in the world is that in there ironing?” All I know is that I wanted to be there, loved every minute of being there and felt a great peace helping my sister during a time when she was bed-ridden. I was there as a helper, not a mentor; I was there as a practical giver, whatever that meant. The ease of our mornings together was really quite amazing.

Shirley was educated, talented, a great conversationalist, comfortable in her own skin and a strong woman. The fact that the skin that she was comfortable in was a shade darker than mine made absolutely no difference to either one of us. One of the biggest laughs that we had together occurred on a morning when Shana and I were looking through the catalogue within sight of Shirley. We were playing the catalogue game that I played with my children where adult and child pick the favorite thing on each page. This game allowed “lap time” and real conversation and sharing. Going through the pages, we came to the dolls; I rather nonchalantly picked a beautiful African American baby doll, and Shana jumped out of my lap and exclaimed indignantly, “I don’t want no nappy-headed doll.” I had never heard that term before, and I looked at Shirley, and we laughed until we had tears in our eyes. I think that incident captured Shana’s delightful personality at that time (very much like Shirley’s, I imagine) strong, courageous, ready to speak her thoughts, self-confident and ready to stand firm.

We shared many moments; I learned more than I taught; I received more than I gave; real love was shared, our hearts were stretched……..and broken. God’s peace is real.

(You can reach Pat Bryson at patriciawbryson@gmail.com.)

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