Open Letter to a Soul Sister

Feb. 17, 2020


I wish I could have been at your Celebration of Life gathering in person, but my recent relocation back to Kentucky, starting a new job, and trying to complete interior painting in an old house so I can finally unpack and be “at home” again has taken a concerted focus of my intentions and time.  Time—something I’ve lost track of when not obligated to a work schedule.  I’ve been indulging in silence and simplicity of walks with my dogs, finding contentment in prayer, enveloped by music and song, envisioning a new reality I’m trying to co-create.  It feels both selfish and essential to a core, lately.  Time is such a relative thing, and age seems to yield to a quickening of spirit.

          One early morning, late in January as I was sleeping, I heard three trains in passing.  The first barely whispered its “whoosh”, the second blew its horn two short blasts, and the third breathed three long, enduring breaths before it faded somewhere in the distance.  (Train whistles have always signaled to me signs of relief and indicated major shifts of paradigms.) A few days later I woke at 3am and couldn’t sleep; the first thing I saw on my phone was Dwight’s posting that you were entering palliative care for pain management.  I was thankful you were allowing yourself some form of comfort to transition through your process, and I cried a little, but was able to go back to sleep after writing down memories of how your life had touched and indelibly impressed mine.

          From the first time I met you and Drue at Dulaney High School, as part of the gymnastics team, there was something grounded and inspirational about you.  Earthy, caring, earnest, but also with a sense of humor, you seemed to strive for a different kind of standard, based on character and how others were treated with fairness.  Then there were bicycle rides along Dulaney Valley Road and through the Loch Raven Reservoir corridor’s winding roads .  I loved the downhills especially— and to think we didn’t wear helmets or have fancy lights or reflective clothing as we free-wheeled with the wind in our hair, as it made our cheeks red!

          I watched and considered, as you and Drue ventured overseas on mission trips and to travel in Europe.  Once I visited Gordon Conwell while you were at Seminary, and though I was curious and searching for my own spiritual truths, I marveled that you seemed to press through when it all seemed so very serious and cumbersome to reach a goal you’d set for yourself.  Later when you traveled to India to teach I felt blessed to receive a letter and photos, occasionally, sharing some of your experiences there.

A part of me wanted to be like you, but for some reason I was finding my own expressions of faith in different ways, through movement, writing, and song.  Years later, on a visit to Maryland when you were visiting Drue, I would learn we all had “secretly” visited All Saints Convent in Catonsville, marveling at the card shop where artwork and calligraphy adorned cards we’d lovingly collected to bless others.

          Thank you for the invitations and provisions you extended to me so I could share my love of “embodied prayer” with other women during retreats.  Thank you for making time and space for me to stop and visit on more than one occasion when I was traveling cross country and pushed pause in Oklahoma.  There was always a surprise awaiting:  visiting a woman author, Susan Blake; visiting church members in their homes for Bible studies or to visit as they recovered from sickness or injury;  impromptu meals you always made feel like exclusive “dining in”; ;and not least of all the time Dwight said, “Please take Pam with you to Colorado….she needs a break from not working!”  Wow, now that was a crazy impromptu trip with two black lab mixed dogs, who loved every minute of it too, from Denver to Boulder to Estes Park, traveling through bear country with fresh Cherry Pies in the car!  I still remember seeing the look on your face when we saw a herd of Moose trekking through town near the Stanley Hotel, and another trotting down the sidewalk of a boutique shopping area where we were walking later in the day. “Yep, they were here before us, so might as well let em go by!’, was your attitude.   It was pretty humbling too, when we entered cougar territory on a trail we thought was a well-marked way, only to find the sign had been put at the wrong trailhead, so we decided to road-walk back to where we hoped to find your burgundy Highlander!  (Your sister Jackie, and brother Doug deserve all the praise for letting us crash in their digs for more than one night, as we tried to decide how to live without a hard and fast agenda for a few days!)  I remember watching you hike a trail passing groves of golden leaf Aspen, and looking at 14’ers from Vista Points off the road, and thinking:  This is where Pam’s belongs…in Nature among all its splendor.

          Then there was a more recent visit, when you invited me to join you and Dwight for dinner with a young Chinese couple working at the gym. Of course you were teaching the young woman and new wife more than English.  You were being an example of a caring individual who leaped over and beyond language and cultural barriers to endear her to you as a friend and confidant

Pam, you’ve never ceased to amaze and challenge me to think about being deliberate in thought and practical in application of  a personal faith, sometimes plagued by honest questions and doubts.  I’m reminded of a Carrie Newcomer song from her recent album “Point of Arrival” : 

“I’m learn’in to sit with not know’in, when I don’t see where it’s go’in;  I’ll cool my heels and start slow’in;  learn’in to sit with not know’in….”   (Carrie Newcomer song lyric)

There is also:  “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror;  but then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part, but then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” 

(I. Corinthians 13:12)

Forever, for you, there has been a delight in learning and knowing and becoming as one born of a seed that remains authentic and unique, however you’ve grown.  I feel privileged to know we are somehow part of a kindred “tribe”, and I’m grateful to call you “Friend” and “Sister” in that Spiritual family.  Thank you for being an example of grace and dignity and unconditional love in a world that needs more ambassadors like you!

April 30, 2022

Post-script :  Little did we know that a month later in Mid-March 2020 our lives would change with the announcement of a world-wide Pandemic. A beast named “Covid” shut down our best laid plans, and your Memorial would be postponed twice because of it, until the spring of 2022. As I was driving to Boothbay Harbor, Maine —a place I know you would have loved— to live and work for a season, I found a quiet place to watch your Memorial at 1st Presbyterian in Norman, OK virtually.  No one was there with me but my faithful dog, Tilley, who heard me crying as I stroked her soft black fur and hugged her aging frame.  Your friends and family represented your life beautifully—but then, you had a birds-eye view.

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