Memorial Service of 18 February 2019, held at First Christian Church
Pamela “Pam” L. Goode
The Book of Job 12:1-3, 7-13 (Common English Version)
Job said to his friends: You think you are so great, with all the answers. But I know as much as you do, and so does everyone else.
If you want to learn, then go and ask the wild animals and the birds, the flowers and the fish. Any of them can tell you what the Lord has done. Every living creature is in the hands of God. We hear with our ears, taste with our tongues, and gain some wisdom from those who have lived a long time. But God is the real source of wisdom and strength.
* Other readings for the service: I John 4:7-16 and John 14:18-28 *
C.S Lewis, the author of so many books, married a woman he likened to having a spirit like an Amazon. A woman of fearless intellect, overflowing joy, and deep faith, she introduced him, a man in his 50s by then, to a life he had not found in all of his scholarship. Then in too short order, his joy was gone, and his recovery became jottings, which became a journal, and then a book called “A Grief Observed.”
As we emerge day by day, from the shock of Pam departing this life, I returned to my yellowed copy, remembering Lewis’ words now so oddly familiar:
“I think I am beginning to understand why grief looks like suspense. It comes from the frustrations of so many impulses that had become habitual. Thought after thought, feeling after feeling, action after action, had [her] for their object. Now their target is gone. I keep on through habit fitting an arrow to the string; then I remember and have to lay the bow down. So many roads had thought to (her), I set out on one of them. But now there’s an impassible frontier-post across it. So many roads once; now so many cul de sac.” [p. 57]
We, says Lewis, “…think of this as love cut short; like a dance stopped in mid-career or a flower with his head unluckily snapped off – something truncated…” Yet this very experience of love, Lewis says,
“…is not a truncation of the process but one of its phases; not the interruption of the dance, but the next figure. ([If) we are ‘taken out of ourselves by the loved one while she is here. Then comes the tragic figure of the dance in which we must learn to be still taken out of ourselves… to love the very Her, and not fall back to loving our past, or our memory, or our sorrows, or our relief from sorrow, or our own love.”
It was only then, he wrote, did he find the most “…remarkable thing….she seems to meet me everywhere… an unobtrusive but massive sense that she is …just as much as ever…” [p.59-60]
WHY I BRING THIS UP
In the journey of a mere week, we may have only begun to glimpse this wisdom from a fellow sufferer, as we slowly emerge from our own sense of shock. But, we do meet Pam everywhere already, I think, if we but start where Job started, when he said to his friends
“If you want to learn then go and ask the wild animals and the birds, the flowers and the fish. Any of them can tell you what the Lord has done. Every living creature is in the hands of God. We hear with our ears, taste with our tongues, and gain some wisdom from those who have lived a long time. But God is the real source of wisdom and strength.”
I think Pam would have been a really good friend to Job, given her gift of compassion, but also in sharing this kindred sensitivity to life and God’s wisdom evident in all its forms. It’s the kind of sensitivity I’ve often observed among those who have transformed whatever suffering they themselves have experienced in life into this really magical form of awareness, kindness, empathy, and celebration of others; a sensitivity that inevitably ranges across God’s creation from plants, to insects, to wild animals, to pets, and to people – all the while seeking nothing in return. Whether it was to sit in the library every week so she could work on cards for various folk, as an elder of our church and as a friend who formed a larger family of her heart, Pam just looked for ways to bring comfort and to bring joy, while being good at whatever she did, jumping in wherever needed, seeing everything through to completion, never taking shortcuts, and… if anyone else did, well… they just might find a little Post-It note!
So it was that not long after my call to this congregation, Pam came to me asking that we make a bigger deal about birthdays and anniversaries within our church. It’s not like she didn’t already have plenty to do, as an Elder or Financial Secretary, or whatever needed handling. Typically, Pam identified an unmet need, as she pointed out how to me how we have a number of folk who live alone with no one to celebrate their special days. Thus, the first Sundays became this festival of culinary delights, every time a grand and unique cake of some theme, with decorations transforming the Narthex. It morphed into a remarkable event, with Taylor as her helper on Saturday evenings in setting everything up. It was no different the last Sunday that Pam was among us: a Valentine’s Day theme on the 3rd, and something for the kids to do. Only a few months back she said she wanted to transfer everything from our usual after church fellowship in the Narthex, to the Fellowship Hall, because she realized how much longer folks might stick around if there were tables and chairs, affording our scattered congregation an opportunity to deepen friendships in extended conversation. Pam was just this remarkable conductor of parties, of celebrating each life, holding each life dear, with an expansive sense of family – all the while, keeping the focus on others, not herself.
It was hardly something confined to here in this church; she did this everywhere she worked or volunteered. I expect it was even the norm when she was working as a Navy budget analyst during her years of service as a GS employee with Navy and Marine Corps commands, or with the VFW. But, I am certain it was the case over at the Virginia Living Museum – where she was both a long-time volunteer with something over 1,000 hours, and having been a part-time employee, starting out in the Volunteer Department, before moving onto Guest Services, and then Membership. She never forgot a birthday or a milestone for anyone once learned, and found a way to be everywhere in the museum, conveying so much in few words and gentle smile. For instance, one volunteer wrote to me saying that she walked into work this year, thinking no one remembered her birthday until she went into her office. “There was Pam with birthday balloons she (had)… snuck into the museum,” in spite of an anti-balloon policy, with a… “if I didn’t say anything she wouldn’t either… “and a birthday card. She was that kind of person. She wanted everyone to feel special and loved.”
Pam, it seems, developed a special relationship with these misunderstood birds, over at the museum. She just didn’t leave anyone or anything out of her love.
In the same way of kindness, outside her home raccoons found dog chow, deer found corn, and feral cats found cat chow. That was Pam. She got what most folk will move past, that larger understanding of God’s design, whether working with native plants, or being a member of the “Frog Watch” or volunteering as a “Monarch Mano” in the rearing, tagging and releasing of monarch butterflies used at the museum to teach visitors and students about life cycles, migration and conservation. She celebrated the release of her first monarch on September 22nd of 2016, and it wasn’t long before she was raising them in her own yard, a point of an early conversation between us. Pam had even bigger plans, not long ago mentioning her interest in becoming a Master Naturalist.
In words that could have as easily been written by St. Francis, and certainly were evidenced in Pam, the late Henri Nouwen wrote of the call to appreciate that all the animals and all created things are part of God’s beloved family with us.
“When we think of oceans and mountains, forests and deserts, trees, plants and animals, the sun, the moon, the stars, and all the galaxies, as God’s creation, waiting eagerly to be ‘brought into the same glorious freedom as the children of God’ (as written in Romans 8:21), we can only stand in awe of God’s majesty and God’s all-embracing plan of salvation. It is not just we, human beings, who wait for salvation in the midst of our suffering; all of creation groans and moans with us longing to reach its full freedom. In this way we are indeed brothers and sisters not only of all other men and women in the world but also of all that surrounds us… we have to love the fields full of wheat, the snowcapped mountains, the roaring seas, the wild and tame animals, the huge redwoods, and the little daisies. Everything in creation belongs, with us, to the large family of God.”
Some people need few words to convey much, and Pam had a magical warmth in her eyes that was my first clue as to her spirit. A spirit I learned was utterly no nonsense when she had thoughts or questions, in the way of those who have grown up in a military family and then worked for the military herself. Taylor picked up on that on their first date, the matchmaking having taken place when a former minister of our congregation called her up on behalf of Taylor, she had a bit of mirth in telling me one day. I have no doubt Pam enjoyed music, but a first date being at the opera was something of a non-start! Yet, humor aside, she was so proud of you, Taylor.
Something I first noticed about people back when I was a young man, was how they talk about their mates. She made sure I saw your gifts as an artist, some of which hang here in our building, and telling me of your pole-vaulting records, and more. You took each other on an adventure in life, one none of us saw an end to, she with a passion for God’s creation in every expression and you with your art, music, and athletics – each inviting the other into the world of the other. As straight-forward as I always experienced Pam, she was ever clear about her thinking. She loved you. She loved and adored the children and the grandchildren. She luxuriated in the family you all shared with her and in the joy and fun and opportunity to nourish and teach and share herself and her love of God’s creation with all of you. She talked repeatedly about her grandchildren in the butterfly garden and always bragged on each one of you… and she did so with her characteristic tenderness, enthusiasm, and wonder.
In the journey through and beyond grief that lies ahead, the insight of C.S. Lewis in his own transition offers us counsel: “I see that only a little time ago I was greatly concerned about my memory of (her) and how false it might become. For some reason – (and) the merciful good sense of God is the only (reason) one I can think of – I have stopped bothering about this. And the remarkable thing is that since…. She seems to meet me everywhere…. A sort of unobtrusive but massive sense that she is, just as much as ever, a fact (and a joy) to be taken into account.” [p. 59-60]
This woman, this joy — whom all of you invited into your lives — was so filled with gratitude to live and love and feel cherished amongst you. There is no mistaking that Pam’s gift of self will live on through you and ALL who loved her.
Thanks be to God, for indeed, we will ever meet Pam everywhere!
Pastoral Prayer: In words more than we can pen to paper or form on our lips, we give you praise, O God, for the light that Pam brought into our lives. For her sense of awe and wonder at your creative work, inviting us to see through her eyes. For her merriment in noticing the moments of our lives, and leaving none out of her love. For her faith in you, one lived out in service with an eye towards including the stranger and remembering the forgotten. For who Pam is, not just was, direct in word and faithful in deed. Ever a student of your works, O God, she did indeed gain wisdom and strength from you, every bit as much as she ask the wild animals and the birds, the flowers and the fish of what you have done for each of us. Grace now Taylor with your word and inspiration, even as you sustain him in the journey of healing, hold close hold Pam’s brothers James and Bruce, and the family she wed into that became her own – Jamey and Jody, Justin, Kaelee, Madison, Jason, and Carson. Grace her church family, museum family, neighbors, and each who were drawn by Pam’s love into joy. Temper the pain we feel now, with the larger memories, and the hope to which we are called, for you indeed call us each by name and we are yours, now and forever in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Sermon Notes: C..S. Lewis. A Grief Observed. NY: Bantam Books, 1976 (pages 57, 59-60), and Henri Nouwen Society. “Daily Meditation from ‘Bread for the Journey’ by Henri Nouwen,” 1997. Accessed on 15 February 2019 at https://henrinouwen.org/meditation/being-sisters-and-brothers-of-nature/
The family requests in lieu of flowers, gifts of love sent to:
First Christian Church, 1458 Todds Lane, Hampton, VA 23666
Virginia Living Museum, 524 J. Clyde Morris Blvd., Newport News, VA 23601