She Kept Us from
Taking Ourselves Too Seriously
A funeral homily for for an elderly woman who had the gift of joy
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker
Each one of us, as we look back on Margaret’s life, remembers the period when we knew her. For some of us that has been a very long time, most of our life, or even its entirety.
The period I remember extends from 1992, when I came to Port Huron, to several years ago, when she relocated to Kansas City. During that time we were in frequent contact, as Margaret was a very faithful member of this church.
As I remember Margaret, she somehow managed to lighten the atmosphere by simply showing up in the room. She seemed characteristically happy, unless she was expressing concern for somebody’s troubles.
In the world where we live, all this is no small accomplishment; it is indeed a work of grace. It was a gift that she brought to us here at St. Paul’s and, I am sure, to other people with whom she associated.
Margaret’s favorite color was pink. The more I have thought about this, the more it makes sense to me. For consider pink. It is not a bold color like red or blue. It is not a color with a down side, like gray or yellow. Pink is a color modest and cheerful. It suggests good condition, good health; thus the phrase, “in the pink.” Almost always pink retains its freshness. It is warm, it is gentle, it is even a bit playful. So too was Margaret.
She entered her life’s final third before a popular poem declared “when I am old I shall wear purple,” and she was a little too early as well for the red hat society, but Margaret found her favorite color, and it suited her just fine: pink, which is warm and gentle and playful. This color was the right choice for this well-dressed woman who often appeared to be musing on something wonderfully funny and delightful.
Yes, her final years were darkened by terrible illness, but the love she showed so well, that she demonstrated to the people around her, this love was amply returned by Sandy and Don and other members of her family. This love is a heritage she leaves behind through them, and it remains a powerful force.
I remember well a visit once to Margaret’s house, that wonderful home beside the St. Clair River, in sight of the Blue Water Bridge, where she and Harold lived for so long. She left the room for a moment, and I had opportunity to glance around. I noticed a framed photograph, clearly many decades old, of a beautiful young woman with a gorgeous smile.
I suddenly realized that this beautiful young woman was the same person as the beautiful old woman who had just left the room. At heart she had not changed across the course of those decades; she had simply become more truly herself.
When people live as Margaret did–lighting the room just by showing up, appearing to muse continually on something funny and delightful–then we see God’s grace at work in a human life.
Only a couple days ago I came to realize the special lesson that Margaret taught us here at St. Paul’s and probably elsewhere. It was this: She kept us from taking ourselves too seriously. She taught this by her life, and this is a good and holy lesson for us to learn, and to relearn many times. She kept us from taking ourselves too seriously.
The mystery writer and Christian apologist G. K. Chesterton said that “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.” Margaret took herself lightly, she was able in her own way to fly, and her example encourages all of us to do the same.
Maybe this is finally what it’s all about. I mean what it’s ALL about. Not taking ourselves too seriously. Setting aside the burdens imposed upon us by circumstance, other people, and ourselves. Experiencing all along the way deaths small and large and then the final one at life’s end, but not allowing any of them to define us or confine us. We have this lifetime to practice resurrection, until at last the great day comes, and we fly through the one way door, hurtling toward the universal, irreversible resurrection where new bodies will be ours, nothing at all will hold us down, and we will rise to a glory that shall not end.
Jesus taught us this Easter hope by his resurrection from the dead. We are reminded of this hope by each of the baptized who lives and dies in faith. Margaret was this sort of reminder to us. Dressed often in pink, this gracious, cheerful woman walked among us as a sign of the glorious age to come.
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.