W.H. Auden once wrote:
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone / Prevent the dog
from barking with a juicy bone / Silence the pianos and with
muffled drum / Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come. / Let
aeroplanes circle moaning overhead / Scribbling on the sky the
message He Is Dead, /Put crepe bows around the necks of public
doves / Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
W.H. Auden once wrote: “Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone / Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone / Silence the pianos and with muffled drum / Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come. / Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead / Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead, /Put crepe bows around the necks of public doves / Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.”
There is a message on my answering machine that I can’t erase. It’s been there for over a month, but I may never erase it. What could be so important that I would keep it this long? First, let me say that Sunday evening Gilroy lost one of its most cherished and valued treasures: human spirit extraordinaire Florence Trimble shuffled off this mortal coil and went on to the “many mansions” she knew God has prepared for us in the next life. It somehow seems fitting that the day she departed for other realms is the very day I preached my first sermon as a lay speaker. Because she is the one who set me (and countless others) on paths we never would have believed we could travel.
Because of Florence, there are pastors and teachers in the world that there otherwise would not be. Because of Florence, there will be a transitional homeless shelter in Gilroy. Because of Florence, there are people who are in prison and people who are homeless who have not given up hope. Because of Florence, I have a refugee from the Dinka tribe in Sudan, Africa, living in my house. She told me of all her experiences in having refugees live in her home, including ones from Vietnam. “Everytime a plane flew overhead,” she told me, “The man from Vietnam would dive under the bed.” Due to her worsening health, she had to withdraw her kind offer of a room to a refugee from Sudan. When she said, “Something will work out,” and looked at me, I knew she was passing the baton. In her legacy of helping others, the hungry are fed, the thirsty have something to drink, the stranger is welcomed, the naked are clothed, and the ill are comforted. When people went to visit her in the hospital, it was she who comforted them and made them laugh. On one of her pastor’s final visits, Florence gave the pastor her blessing and comforted the pastor, instead of it just being the other way around.
Widow, granddaughter and daughter of Methodist ministers, she knew the Bible backwards and forwards, yet she never made anyone feel she was a know-it-all. Her grandfather was Abraham Lincoln’s bodyguard and a pallbearer at his funeral, and she told me of her family’s struggles as abolitionists trying to put an end to slavery. I often found myself wishing I could do a Vulcan mind meld of the contents of her incredible brain. With Florence’s death, the collection of generations of wisdom held in the repository of one small human frame has passed. There are people who are like living encyclopedias: with Florence, an entire library is gone.
I am luckier than most people on earth – why? Because I got to spend time with Florence three times a week. Not only did I get to talk to her at church, but I also learned from her in our weekly women’s Bible study where we talked about everything going on in our lives. Then on Thursdays, I had my own special chat with her when I brought over the organic vegetables she had convinced me to share with her. She always had special things she had collected during the week for me to read. Which cracked me up: how many 92-year-olds do you know that have a radical point of view? Radical, yet tempered with her love of peace and hope for everyone to learn to love and accept each other.
The good Florence did will live on well beyond her life here in Gilroy. Her legacy is in the many lives touched to continue to do good work in her absence. Gilroy’s Gretchen Vandenberg became a pastor under the influence of Florence Trimble’s inspiration and belief in her. Florence was like that; she saw the potential in every person. When she called the day before my birthday and sang “Happy Birthday” to me on the answering machine, something told me, don’t erase it. Now I will keep it as a precious memory of Florence.
The one thing that most stood out about Florence is the way she always looked for the good in every person she met. When a card was made available at church for people to sign to send to Paula Burnson, a member of our church who is in prison, Florence was the first one over to sign it. She never gave up on anyone. And even when she lay dying, one of her last efforts was leaving a message for Paula to make sure that she knew that the love of God is still there for her. That kind of love is the kind that can reach to every corner of the globe, from the lowest gutter to the highest star; that kind of unselfish love is the kind that transforms the world, one heart at a time. This is the message of Florence’s life: we can always do more to help each other. Never give up; there is always hope; nothing is unforgivable, and nothing is beyond the reach of the love of God. Every life has value just as it is – every person is redeemable.
Kat Teraji’s column is published every Thursday in The Dispatch. You can reach her at [email protected]