Update December 6
Update December 6, 2011
Since last I reported to you, several events of interest to you have transpired. Some related matters too.
Beginning with a photo sent me by John Naley, extraordinary athlete who excelled in basketball and baseball, for Sunset Park Norwegian Methodist Church and Columbia University. The photo, in a grainy copy from the World Telegram and Sun, is identified incorrectly as 1958. It probably was 1955 or 1954. Otherwise, I would be in the photo. I arrived in Brooklyn on February 4, 1956, played roundball with the church team in the Unlimited Division of the Bay Ridge Church League (with gradually diminishing ability) until my departure seventeen seasons later. During that time the team usually won the championship, thanks to the core of players identified in the photo.
The last update, September 11, 2011 highlighted two nonagenarians from Grace Church, Valley Stream. A week later one of them, Margaret ("Peg") Keller died. I was honored to participate in her funeral service. Here's my tribute to her, interspersed with photos of the family and a photo daughter Kathleen has provided from Peg's 95th birthday.
Margaret Broadie Keller 1916 -2011
I asked Peg as she neared her 95th birthday: did you ever imagine (you know where I am going with this, right?) you would live this long?
She replied as you can guess, “no”... demurely.
I could have asked the same question in several other ways, with, of course, the same result.
Like: did you ever dream out there on the Kansas prairie on the homestead in the heat of the summer sun that you would spend the far greater part of your life in the centrally air-conditioned comfort of a house on an island just twenty miles from the largest city in the nation? “No,” she would say, and then correct me about the air-conditioning, that everything’s uptodate in Kansas City.
Or I could have asked: did you ever think at the university, when you began dating that piano player from the east, the one with unbounded enthusiasm and very little savvy about farm life, that you would spend your life with him, keep him nourished, bear him children, keep the family books straight, and celebrate with him your 50th wedding anniversary at the Waldorf? “Hardly,” she would smile.
And I might have asked Peg: did you ever think you and Bert would be the originating source of so much academic achievement, degrees, doctorates, prizes, and certifications by your children, grandchildren, and, before much longer, great-grandchildren? I could have hoped she might have agreed that, yes, it had occurred to the Kellers on East Argyle St. that they had formed an educational juggernaut; but modesty, of which Peg had plenty, would prevent even a nod of assent.
How about, with her culinary expertise in mind, asking her: did you ever imagine, young Methodist girl of Kansas that you were, that you would help to build a modern Methodist cathedral on Long Island one peach pie at a time? Thinking of the fund-raising dinners in the Educational Building All-Purpose Room, I mischievously suggested to Kathleen that it would be just as appropriate to hold this service in the kitchen as in here.
It’s a wonder.
No, better to say, Peg’s a wonder.
And I have said that, to her, a number of times, in writing. Mainly I’ve bragged about Peg, especially her facility with Email, to those of much lesser age wrestling with and being frustrated by this new electronic world we live in. That I have a nonagenarian correspondent with whom I exchange Email many times a year, and she composes a message literate and grammatical worthy of an English teacher. I reviewed recent Email from Peg. Ten times this year she wrote to me, about you, mostly about you, Kathy and Dick in particular, but also Agnes and Lillian and Tom and Eileen, Bob Weston, Russell and Matt, how much she misses Bert, how she, in the phrasing from the Bible, “suffers under many doctors,” always remembering where the Howards are or are going, cautioning us as we prepared to take a trip down the Rhine this past June to “remember not to eat fresh salads with the E Coli going around in Germany. It sounds terrible.”
But her Emails sounded wonderful.
Considering that her life was getting beyond her. Bert was gone. That was her chief sorrow. The Tuesday bridge club could no longer find a fourth. She was immured. The children and grands were far away. Contemporaries in community and church and family had long since departed. She thought sometimes, surely, she had been left behind. That’s one of the penalties, however many the blessings, of reaching a great age.
And now Peg is gone. My Email inbox will be a little emptier. For her sake I’ll not complain. She is, by God’s grace, in a better place. Where congestive heart failure no longer saps her energy. Where, we hope by reason of hints afforded us by Jesus and the apostles, we shall forever be embraced with love and the loving others we have spent our time with, those who have left us earlier. Her Bert. I can hear her greet him with that mixture of fondness and exasperation I heard in her voice often in the Bert Keller Room when the piano player would deliver a line she thought better left unspoken, “Oh, Bert!” Whatever, we know and trust and believe that far beyond our most faithful expectation God will provide for us in that dark unknown beyond life’s ending, that we shall be with Jesus, what we shall know even as we are known by God, that the everlasting arms will cradle us forever in the bosom of Abraham. Peg might disapprove my saying it, with an Oh Bob to match the Oh Bert, but no one deserves the full consideration of the everlasting arms more than she does.
God of the everlasting arms, the generous heart, and the peace that passes understanding, we commend to those arms, that heart, for that peace one lately among us, one who lived a full and long life, Margaret Keller, our Peg, mother, grand and great-grandmother, sister, friend, and neighbor. We thank you for her undaunted spirit through the changes and sorrows (and triumphs) of a very long life. We thank you for her unfailing devotion and support for her beloved Bert; for her motherly care and continued concern for her children long after they were no longer children, but still her children. We thank you for the years and years of energy and skill and patience she brought to her work within the church. On her behalf, we thank you for giving her a strong beginning in a loving and prospering family; for providing her a life’s companion with whom to engage the world and make the most of it; for bringing forth from her own life, two more lives, a son and a daughter, in whom she was very proud, and with reason; and for surrounding her with friends and neighbors who celebrated with her the simple pleasures, and in these later years helped watch out for and over her. Gracious God, you know it was not Peg’s way to be effusive; but her life and deeds speak eloquently of her faith in you. Receive her into your more stately mansions. Honor her with a special place at the banquet feast of heaven. Hold her now in her death as lovingly as you have in her living; for we ask it in the name of him who has made us bold to hope not alone for this life, but for the life to come, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
"The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away": so goes the wisdom of Job. It would be fair to add, under the influence of the Risen Christ, that the Lord giveth again. Two weeks following the funeral for Peg, Barbara and I could be found in the hills above the Hudson River, celebrating the baptism (also announced in the September 2011 issue of MEC) of Emmaline Ruth, infant daughter of Eric and Karen Dalland. I have become something of a chaplain for the Dalland Family, weddings, funerals, baptisms, and occasional counsel, ever since the patriarch was a teenager in the Sunset Park congregation. As it was for Emmaline's sister, Abigail, the ceremony was held at her grandparents' estate, in the shadow of a large cross recently erected, there among family, friends, and neighbors. The baptism was preceded and followed by a feast prepared almost entirely by said grandparents, Lynette and Sonny (Dr. Edward) Dalland (the aforesaid patriarch), in Coxsackie NY. Herewith are the thoughts I offered, interspersed with photos taken, mostly, by Barbara.
“Beneath the cross of Jesus, I fain would take my stand,” sings a favorite hymn. That’s where (to the foot of the cross) my homiletics professor told me every sermon should take us. That’s where (in the shadow of the cross) Martin Luther tells us to hide when judgment day arrives. Here we are in between times, in our living, our birthing, our mortal striving.
I take two messages from that cross for this moment of celebration of Emmaline’s baptism. Two messages from the unending source of messages which the cross is. One, the reminder that this life we live is inevitably broken, even the best of it. The shadow is cast upon any aspiration we may have to perfection. That, the cross, is what humanity did to God when God came among us as one of us.
And, two, that is what God did when God came among us as one of us, took it freely upon his own immortal self. For lots of reasons, all of them gracious. To share and heal the brokenness of this human condition. To show the way beyond the violence to the triumph of compassion. To tell us we are not alone, never ever, even in the valley of shadows or any hell of our own or others’ making.
Little Emmaline, we welcome you into this mortal realm with all of its ambiguities, joys and sorrows, where all of them, and you are too, enfolded in God’s grace and love, no matter where life takes you or what, for good and not so good, you are called to face. The cross of Jesus insists on it: you are loved.
A Blessing for Emmaline