How very odd it is to see a friend of several decades in an urn beside an altar. Jeanette’s photo stood behind. And about 20 of us sat and watched. I was struck by the beauty of the church. Perhaps I shouldn’t be. What else would a church be? Jeanette was beautiful herself, by the way. We can see that in the photo taken in midlife. Behind the altar is a wall of glass. It frames the field behind the church. Nothing special but California oak and grassland. One of the state’s major ecological zones. Keep California Green and Golden, a fire prevention advert implored in my youth. Today it is green. Tomorrow, in this year of drought it may not be. But I try not to go there. My wife urges attending to the present. She is right. And for Jeanette this green present will be always. That goes with dying.
Born with a genetic condition akin to muscular dystrophy, Jeanette found herself in a wheelchair at age 5. She also found herself in Oregon farm country. Her husband Gordon recounted some of the details of her childhood during her funeral service. In the third grade, Jeanette was sent home permanently. Her rural family got their first telephone. Jeanette was supposed to keep in touch with classwork via phone. Her teacher had made it clear: no wheelchairs in my classroom. Even as a child, Jeanette protested. She put up enough of a fuss to get herself back in school. The following autumn, she began fourth grade with a different teacher.
There was lots of reading. Each day, kids read on their own. Then the teacher read to them. One of the books read aloud was ‘My Left Foot,’ the famous autobiography of an Irish paralytic. Jeanette told me this particular story. It was only then, in middle-age, that the teacher’s purpose had dawned on her. At the time, she had simply enjoyed the story. She had enjoyed fourth grade. And, trust me, her classmates had enjoyed her. People benefit from being with different people. It’s as simple as that.