A few years ago I attended the funeral of a good friend’s mother. After the songs, the eulogy and pastoral message, the one hundred or so guests gathered outside in a brick courtyard around the hearse to say their final farewells. It was an emotional moment: Flower wreaths were placed on the casket while family and friends hugged and cried. And then something extraordinary occurred.
As the hearse carrying the coffin slowly inched its way down a narrow brick driveway and onto the street, the funeral-goers erupted into spontaneous applause. The mourners didn’t stop clapping and cheering until the car vanished from sight.
This much-loved woman had many obvious gifts and talents as a writer, photographer, dancer and artist, but that’s not what the crowd were celebrating. Friends and family were acknowledging this woman’s kindness, her generosity and the impact she’d made on the lives of others right up until her death from cancer.
It was a defining moment and since then I have often asked myself: “How would I like to be remembered?”
While some may recall the books I’ve authored or the articles I’ve written – ones that may well end up as liner in a birdcage, I would hope my most enduring legacy will be lives impacted as a result of kindness.
In 2005, Australian TV producer and presenter Andrew Denton, interviewed Johnny Lee Clary, former spokesman and recruiter for the notorious Klu Klux clan. With his distinctive southern drawl, Clary spoke of years of systematic abuse aimed at African American civil rights preacher, Reverend Wade Watts.
In the interview, Clary detailed the attacks on Watts, which included relentless racial slurs and vitriolic phone calls, the dumping of trash on the Reverend’s front lawn; the burning of a cross outside his home and the final act of revenge: attempting to incinerate his church. Throughout the ordeal, Reverend Watts never faltered in his love for Clary, once declaring (also with that southern drawl) “You can’t do enough to me to make me hate you, Johnny. I’m gonna love you and I’m gonna pray for you whether you like it or not!”
The response from Reverend Watts, fuelled by love and not retribution, had a profound impact on Clary. In 1990, he hung up his KKK robes for good, gave his heart to Jesus and travelled the world as a Pentecostal preacher before his death of a heart attack in 2014.
What changed this man’s intense hatred? LOVE!
I have made a pact with myself and with God: To be kinder to people and to look for opportunities to reach out in love.
I don’t always get it right. Of course, there are days when I am so completely immersed in the creative pursuit, I forget to surface for air, let alone bake a casserole for a friend. Thankfully, I have an inner-voice reminding me of that new mum who needs encouragement, the terminally-ill man down the street who could do with some prayer and the frail retiree across the road whose wife has been moved to a nursing home… he might need a meal.
A few weeks ago, Lead Pastor of Hillsong Australia, Joel A’Bell, exhorted the congregation to make space in their calendar for those who may need some time. He also encouraged us to keep some extra cash on hand for those unexpected moments where God may require us to help someone in need.
I’m up for it.
It may mean walking away from my desk for a short time, putting my hand up and shouting out to God, just as Donkey called out to Shrek, “Pick me!”
While there’s nothing wrong with success, I’m believing the applause at my funeral will be inspired by the quality our God esteems most highly… LOVE!