Standing Before Us
Dear friends. Only hours ago, I received the news that Dorothy May Emerson passed away. A social media post explained that she collapsed in her new home and could not be revived. There has been a great outpouring of fond memories and support for Donna, her life partner at this time.
As some of you may recall, Dorothy May Emerson spent time with this congregation over a few months. She met with many of its members. And she made recommendations about areas to which this community could draw its awareness and its resources to increase health and vitality. I know that many of my colleagues remember her with fondness. I am sure many in our community do as well.
As it happens, much of the more insightful and nuanced details of the life of Julia Ward Howe, about whose unparalleled life I spoke on Sunday, comes from the volume Standing Before Us, edited and complied by Dorothy May Emerson. In fact, though I don’t read the footnotes in my sermons on Sundays, in the rare case that someone might refer to the written version, they would have found this as footnote number 5: “Please read more about Julia Ward Howe in the book Standing Before Us, Dorothy May Emerson, ed. (Boston: Skinner House, 2000), pp. 325–331.” Also, I’ve been carrying this book in my bag all week as a reference.
As I wrote that footnote and as I read through the section of Dorothy’s book remembering Julia Ward Howe, I recalled the few times I had a chance to speak with her on the phone. In truth, speaking as a colleague with a minister whose work is assigned in not one, but two separate sections of the reading list we are tested on to become ministers, was humbling. Her range of experience spans history, micro-loan financing, pastoral ministry, community ministry, consulting, and being an overall inspiring person.
Just before writing this, I took a call from an old friend and received the news he’d become engaged to be married. My friend explained that he proposed on a mountaintop in Iceland, and he couldn’t tell if it was the altitude, the exertion, or the nerves that made him have to catch his breath before asking his bride-to-be to be his bride. But he did say his heart was beating a lot more than it should be just as he was standing before his girlfriend. And so we celebrated together, mostly because his girlfriend said yes.
But these two pieces of news stacked together in a few hours struck me. The hearts we meet in this world, as fragile as we know they are, can take us to amazing places. We can ascend to the heights of our craft and profession, we can climb mountains in distant lands, we can do just about anything we set a mind to do so long as we have the heart to get us there. But sometimes we can’t see, we can’t hear, we can’t fully appreciate the person, the other beating heart standing before us. But people like Dorothy remind me that some of those people—maybe all of those people—standing before us are there for a reason: because they are leading us on.
As it always was with Dorothy, and as it ever may be.
Rev. T. J.