Thursday, September 07, 2006

Revisiting a Life of Fair Hope

September 7

The post was originally up on May 8 and was deleted by mistake. I feel it should have its eternal place in cyberspace so I am presenting it once again.

I just got back from a very memorable memorial service. Claude Arnold, 88-year-old citizen of a little town called Fairhope, Alabama, died peacefully Friday afternoon. At the service this morning I learned that he died with his family around him, and then the family did what they felt Claude would have wanted and went out to the American Legion Club to go dancing. That may sound unusual, but they are an unusual family, and they love to dance. Claude was among the best of them.

Claude was among the best that the Fairhope I used to know and still love had to offer. He was a World War II veteran, a surveyor, and with three different wives, the father of 13 children. He was a nice gentleman who could tell stories about old Fairhope. There are many besides his large family who will miss him, and the city will never be able to replace him.

When I got to the funeral home I was given what I guess you call a "program" with a picture of young, handsome Claude and the Organic School prayer on the front page. I saw from the inside that we would be singing the old song "Fairhope," a corny old waltz that used to be sung at the end of every Fairhope event. I knew there would be some tears shed.

Claude's son Michael gave the eulogy, reading the biographical material and telling stories about how he used to ride around Baldwin County when he was a little boy with his daddy when he was doing surveys. Michael is a surveyor now, and a very touching speaker with a warm, deep voice and a quick sense of humor. He reminded us of Claude's war record and how no memorial day went by that Claude was not out at dawn putting flags in the cemeteries and saluting the flag whenever it was raised. His words were almost a call to arms to the assembled: Who is going to do this now that Daddy isn't here? I have no doubt that someone who was there will take up the task.

Mordecai, Claude's sterling and wise younger brother, was there in full Marine regalia complete with medals -- he retired about 16 years ago, but there was never a prouder patriot (unless it was Claude, a Navy man). Mordecai rose to say a few words. Everyone who knows him knows he never says a few words, but this time he was brief and read an interesting document that Claude had written when his younger sister Sue died. It was a recounting of a war incident. Claude had landed on the beach at Normandy, and jumped in the sea to rescue who he could in the mobs of people jumping. He realized that he wasn't going to make it, blacked out, and was confronted with a beautiful scene. His grandmother stood before him. It was not the old lady he had known, but his grandmother in a former day, a much younger, vital woman, running to him and welcoming him. He was in a beautiful place. "Look, Claude," (his grandfather's name), "It's Hawkins' boy. He's come to us," she kept saying. Claude then saw his two little boys at home, Paul and Michael, and he said, "I have to get to them," and his grandmother said, "No, you're with us now." There were trees and clouds, and bright, glorious colors in the sky.

Claude then was jarred by battle sounds, hospital sounds. "Oh, someone has to go back," said his grandmother. Then she realized it was Claude. "Oh, it's you who is going back now," she said. And then he came to, in a hospital.

There will be lots of reactions to that story. The minister at the service, of course, said that it was proof of Christ's promise on the Cross. I don't see it quite that way, because, after all, Claude never said that he saw Jesus. But it is promise of something, and Mordecai wanted us to know that Claude told him that for the rest of his life, when he lost someone, the memory of that experience helped him with his grief. It will help many more people now.

Someone emailed me recently that the way to get responses on my blog is to say something controversial. I expect many comments on this one.

11 comments:

Maggie Mosteller-Timbes said...

Mary Lois,
I have enjoyed reading each of your "blogs" - Well done, Sister!
I would like to add my comments to the one you wrote after attending the service for Claude Arnold on May 8.
Your brother Graham and I were also among the privileged who attended the celebration of Claude Arnold's life on Monday. It was indeed a privilege to pay tribute to so fine a man as Claude but also to witness the loving spirit of the Arnold family that lives on. Graham and I each felt that we had experienced a momentous occasion of historic importance. Given that Graham and I are both known to tend toward the dramatic and on occassion to wax poetic, one might think our assessment a bit exaggerated. But I'm certain that anyone who was there in the chapel that morning will understand what we mean. To hear the "Organic Prayer" read with reverence by the congregation and have Claude's brother and sisters: Mawk, Elsie, MeMe and Jody lead us in the singing of "Fairhope" gave us all a taste of the sweet, open and loving spirit that is Fairhope's legacy. On Monday, we celebrated the life of a man who embodied that tradition and each one of us is reminded to do our part to keep it alive.

Bert Bananas said...

Controversy just isn't as controversial as it used to be.

Benedict S. said...

No controversy possible here. Claude saw what he saw, the minister reported what he believed, and I take it so did Mary Lois.

I take it Paul was there, your classmate, and one of my players. I didn't get to see him at the team reunion. How's he doing?

Finding Fair Hope said...

Originally I thought this post would bring forth many comments about near-death experiences, but it didn't the first time and doesn't seem to be this time either. I think Mr. Bananas is right!

When Claude had his encounter with the hereafter in WWII, nobody discussed such things, and he never revealed it until the 1990's. Now these reports are coming out of the woodwork, and maybe we shall be able to come to some understanding of them. There's always a fair hope of that.

John Sweden said...

I’ve had to many unexplainable experiences in life to dismiss these things to easily. I wonder though, with all these questions about life near death, life after death, life before conception, life before birth, life on other planes or life on other planets, if it’s not just endless distraction from life itself and those who nourish life and those who destroy it. I remember being told of a great lesson to be taught by the Buddha. Thousands of his disciples had gathered. When they all fell silent, each straining with every fiber of their existence to hear the words that would bring the knowledge of enlightenment, he simply held up flower for all to see. Sometime things just are what they are more meaningful if left undefined and we are better for it. It worked for Claude and that’s all that matters. The constant need for explanation, in my opinion, could or should be a sign of arrested development and leads to all sorts of troublesome fantasies.

If I remember correctly my response at the time, in reference to memorial day, was to also remember and give thanks to the peacemakers.

Bert Bananas said...

How DARE you twist my words about controversy not be so controversial anymore into something so controversial!!!

Of COURSE near death experiences are not non-controversial, when viewed in the light of the full moon! How could this not not be the case!!

If you back up far enough, and I mean way far back, you can view birth as a near death experience.

Bert Bananas said...

John Sweden said: "The constant need for explanation, in my opinion, could or should be a sign of arrested development and leads to all sorts of troublesome fantasies."

John Sweden is a closet Laztheist.

Finding Fair Hope said...

Here's what John Sweden commented the last time I ran this post:

Thanks for such a wonderful blog. “Memorial Day” approaches, an important day of reflection on the futility of war and of all those sacrificed and those who continue to sacrificed on this altar of insanity, let us all take a moment to think of who and what we have lost and take a silent vow of “never again”, while blessing the peacemakers.

For all of those of us who have suffered loss and who will eventually be lost themselves, let us hope, even for brief moment, that Claude’s story is one of a rare encounter with a reality yet to be known.

So he's in a slightly different place today. As for me, bananas, I'm twisting in the wind, but not twisting words if I can help it.

Robin said...

Is this controversy enough? It appears that the "dream state" theory of life after death has finally become a viable scientific theory, since now it appears
that the "death dream" is simply vastly "time dilated",so that "life after death" so called, is quite likely simply a short "life before death" which is simply enormously time dilated so that it "appears" to take place and last for years "after death", but actually only exists for a split second "before" death. This
then eliminates the age old objection that "dead brains can't dream", thus making it exceedingly possible that there actually is a
"length state of consciousness which
subjectively takes place after death". This is what my granddaddy told me and he always told the truth.

John Sweden said...

Robin: Thanks for proving my point.

Bert: Thanks for outing me. My name is John, I am Lazthiest. Where do I sit?

FF: Thanks for reprinting my earlier reply.

Claude: Just plain Thanks. I liked your experience, as it was and as it is, it gives Fairhope.

Richard Feynman said...

Robin's GD didn't tell her that. She heard it from a person commenting on a book I wrote when I was still alive.