It’s time to Break It Down!
I originally penned this post over 10 years ago. When I did, the third Tableau lauded my first cousin, Jesse, and his wife Jean, on the occasion of his 75th Birthday, and their 50th Wedding Anniversary. Fast forward 10 years, and nearly three months ago, I had the unmitigated pleasure of being a part of the posse of family and friends that feted them on his 85th Birthday and their 60th Anniversary.
The essence of this post reprises its 2009 progenitor. To close the loop, I amended today’s blog to incorporate this year’s signal observances. Thanks for your indulgence.
Usually this space is reserved for stories of national interest or importance. Occasionally, I have adjusted the focus and turned the lens on people that I know personally, and that most of you don’t; people such as my family and friends as it were. This is one of those instances.
Over the past three weeks I have had reason to reflect upon the concept of mortality, and to contemplate the quintessential and age-old question, “What is the meaning of life?” In acknowledging three separate events, and witnessing two incredibly powerful and special occasions, I joined a throng to say farewell to a dearly departed friend, and partook of an intimate evening with several of my closes relatives, aimed at toasting and celebrating two remarkable milestones.
On Memorial Day I traversed the State (North Carolina) to attend a Memorial Service in Rocky Mount, commemorating the life and accomplishments of a former colleague and friend. Her name was Pamela; she was struck down by cancer at age 46. The temptation is to say that is far too soon for anyone to die. In response to those who do, people of faith offer the reminder that an omnipotent, omnipresent, and especially omniscient God is simply too wise to err. And so, it must be, quite simply, an element of the fulfillment of his grand and splendid Master plan.
Perhaps that is why a crowd estimated at more than 1,000 came to say good-bye. Or maybe that is why a diverse group consisting of nearly a dozen men and women approached the podium and sang, paid tribute, and offered remarks that reverently expressed their affection, appreciation, and adoration for her having shared with them individually and collectively, a life well-lived. Just possibly, that is why, even though the sanctuary was filled to capacity at least an hour before the service, the people stayed until the end, to pay their respect to a woman who quietly went about changing the very fabric of communities across the Upper Coastal Plains Region of North Carolina, which includes Edgecombe, Halifax, Nash, Northampton, and Wilson Counties.
On April 3, 1968, the day before he would be killed, The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous Mountaintop speech in Memphis, Tennessee; the last one he would give. In the speech, Dr. King noted, “Longevity has its place. But I’m not worried about that now.” At some point, Pam knew longevity would not be her lot. But she did not waste time fretting about things over which she had no control. There was too much work left to be done to achieve her purpose. So she soldiered on, working to make like better for others. Pam lived a Purpose-Driven Life. I am honored to have known and worked with her, but more than that I am grateful, as part of my purpose, God saw fit for another former colleague and me to be among the throng to say one last good-bye, and to join in celebrating Pam’s life and many good works.
In the movie “The Lion King,” one of the songs on the soundtrack, and one of the fundamental themes of the movie is, The Circle of Life. Stated in basic terms, the concept of the Circle of Life means no one lives forever, but if you have done your duty while on earth, you will have imparted key information to others to carry on when you are gone. Some like Pam are given relatively little time to achieve that purpose.
That’s where my first cousin Jesse and his wife Jean enter the picture. Saturday evening I traversed the State again, this time to Durham. The occasion for this trip incorporated two signal events. My cousin Jesse (Bud, as he was affectionately known when I was growing up) observed his 75th birthday last Monday, and on Saturday, Jean and he commemorated their 50th Wedding Anniversary. Actually, those are more than an observance and/or a commemoration; those are both worthy of celebration, and that is precisely what our family members did Saturday.
Jesse and Jean have two children and four grandchildren, and the entire brood was present, and joyfully accounted for, understandably. Everyone made a big fuss, which, naturally, made Jean and Jesse uncomfortable. But there were more of us than there were of them, so they really did not have much of an alternative. The grand kids lauded them with poetry, including a Haiku. Their children took lots of pictures, and made a gift to them of the brand new camera. This was significant because Jean had insisted “no gifts.” Again, what was she going to do? She was outnumbered.
Jean and Jesse have led incredible lives. Both HBCU graduates, they raised a beautiful family, made successful careers, retired and lived to tell about it, and now they regularly make themselves busy, doing among other things, doting on their grandchildren, traveling, catching up with their many friends and relatives, and continuing to pursue their own unique and special “Purpose-Driven Lives.”
Jesse and Jean were married June 6, 1959. When they arrived at 1006 Lincoln Street, in Kinston, North Carolina, my Uncle Jesse and Aunt Kate’s home (Jesse’s parents), I was there to greet them. For the 50 years that have ensued since then, Jesse, has loomed a giant of a man in my life; one of my favorite cousins, a great friend, and a role model, whom I revere ‘til this day. He and his loving bride Jean are among the regular readers of this blog. They will be surprised I wrote this, and Jean, especially, will say I should not have…in full blush, and mean it. I can’t really say I outnumber them, so I suppose it’s fortuitous that I am 140 miles away. Alas, there was still not much she could do to stop me. Moreover, I do not have an apology, but rather a declaration: “I love you both, Jean and Jesse!”
So what of mortality? As I think about the way they lived, and/or are living their lives, it is clear that no matter whether life is short or long, we are called upon to make a difference. The traditional expression of this theme is “to leave the world a better place than you found it.” There is no doubt in my mind Pam did that. It is also clear Jesse and Jean are still actively engaged in making their imprint. I am blessed to have been just one of the many lives they invested in, and helped to shape.
And what, then, is the meaning of life? Clearly that one is trickier. Yet when distilled to its essence, Micah 6:8 (New International Version) sums it up nicely: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” In other words, it is not enough to merely talk a good game. One must engage and put words in to action. As the motto of Fayetteville State University, my undergraduate alma mater compels, Res Non Verba…Deeds Not Words; or in contemporary vernacular, actions speak louder than words.
That’s where the story ended a decade ago. “Back to the Future,” on June 1st, my Bride and I drove over to Durham to join a group of family and friends to celebrate Jesse and Jean as they observed his 85thBirthday and their 60thWedding Anniversary. We converged at Maggiano’s Little Italy well ahead of the appointed time. We took lots of pictures and regaled each other with short stories and anecdotes, and oh yes, ate more food than the law allows…or would allow, if in fact there were laws against epicurean overindulgence.
My own story is a simple one. I’ve known Jesse all my life. He’s my mother’s nephew and my first cousin. He served his country in the U.S. States Army, and made a career in the insurance field where he became an executive in the nation’s largest and most prominent Black Insurance Company. Jean made a career of being an educator, while doubling as a homemaker. I met her on their wedding day. When I reflect on having known someone for more than 60 years, I’m amazed. When I think about having known them more than 60 years, I’m humbled. They are without question two of my favorite people. I call them every week. Several times. They…are the bomb-diggity!
So from an extraordinarily colorful palette I have framed “Three Tableaus: Three Purpose Driven Lives Updated!” I’m done; holla back!
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