A Life Lived Intensively
A funeral homily for a woman who loved funny hats, animals, and gardening
A Life Lived Intensively
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker
The morning after Dorothy passed away, her brother John and sister-in-law Pat met with me and told me about how she had lived her life, the sort of person she was.
I heard about a woman who was a lover of hats, some of them funny hats; about one child in a large family that now is smaller than it once was; about Dorothy’s love for animals, how she would feed birds and deer; and the way her cat Rufus circulated among the nearby houses of various relatives, treating each of them as his own. John and Pat told me of a woman who loved to garden, and who planted trees, placing them without regard for those who had to mow the grass. I heard about a woman who never married, lived in the same spot for nearly half a century, supported many charities, traveled when young, worked as a supervisor at the gas company, read books of all kinds and magazines too; somebody who believed in God and prayed, and shared in the life of a close family, and would make ice cubes out of Tang, putting into each of them a cherry, sometimes two.
At an early hour on a Saturday morning they did a fine job of painting the portrait of one they knew well and loved well. And as I heard about Dorothy Mattox, somebody else came to my mind: the nineteenth century American poet Emily Dickinson.
Maybe you remember a little about Dickinson. She spent most of her fifty-six years on earth there in her home in Amherst, Massachusetts. Outwardly the life she lived was a quiet one. But she was an original. A bright flame burned inside her, and flames forth still in the more than seventeen hundred poems she left behind. Dickinson’s poems are short and spare, lively and simple in their language. They appear to be narrow channels through which intensity of feeling and sometimes of humor comes barreling forth. The power of her work is apparent in how it is impossible to pin down that work. More than a century past her death, these poems continue to tease and attract their readers, leaving us a bit off balance, amazed at an author who has felt so much in so small a personal geography, little more than a house and yard.
Emily Dickinson was an original. She lived a life that was not extensive in the sense of travel, but her life was certainly intensive. Her spirit burned brightly.
From what I have been told about Dorothy–told by those who knew her well and loved her well–she was, like Dickinson, an original. For many decades her life was not extensive, she did not travel far. But more importantly, hers was an intensive life. Her spirit burned brightly. I believe that, like Dickinson, Dorothy was faithful to God in her own way, and grace was the brightness with which her spirit burned.
I don’t know if Dorothy left behind poems like Dickinson did. Or perhaps her poems are not words on paper, but the way she touched people’s lives, the way she touched the lives of each of you here and many others.
Dorothy was quite a reader, and no doubt sometime along the way she must have encountered poems written by Dickinson. During these past few days, I have been wondering whether in fact she read some of these and liked them, whether she felt a sense of kinship with the Amherst poet who, like her, lived life not extensively, but intensively, who was, in her own way, an original. Whether or not Dorothy felt that sense of kinship, perhaps she does now, in the supernal circle of sisters and brothers where each is manifest as an original, a spirit burning brightly.
In closing, I would like to read one of Emily Dickinson’s best known poems, which speaks of faith and hope, of life lived intensively and well, which is how Dorothy lived it. The poem is entitled “I never saw a moor.”
I never saw a moor,
I never saw the sea;
Yet know I how the heather looks,
And what a wave must be.
I never spoke with God,
Nor visited in heaven;
Yet certain am I of the spot
As if a chart were given.
Copyright 2008, Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission. Fr. Hoffacker is the author of A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals (Cowley Publications), a book devoted to helping busy clergy prepare funeral homilies that are faithful, pastoral, and personal.