Spring arrived beautifully, here in Lanesville. There was some wind and cold, now and then, in the last few weeks, but now, spring is really here. Today, I stopped the car to admire the colors in one yard, yellow forsythia, coral azalea, white and pink magnolia, and a weeping cherry. The early green of newly budded leaves has started to soften the hard dark branches of trees in the woods. We hear the sounds of birds outside our window in the morning in a plum tree. Robins begin to build nests. Our cats sit in the windows and wish they were outdoor cats.
The ocean’s hues change daily, with the temperature, and whatever is happening in the sky: deep blues and greens, sometimes a white-capped purple, or stone gray and stormy in the rain. We saw lines of geese heading north across the bay. I’ve seen four great white herons in four different areas of Cape Ann in the last day, so they are back, too, and making homes.
Today, amidst all the new life of spring, we buried a wonderful woman, Jennie Toikka. There was something about the loveliness of the day that comforted everyone who came. We traveled in procession from the funeral home to the graveyard, Seaside, in Lanesville, the sky as blue as could be, and a spring breeze freshened the ocean. And though we all mourned her passing, the service itself, and the commital, had a kind of peacefulness to it, for Jennie is someone who lived her life well. The beauty of the morning, the dignity of the burial service, the real joy we all felt in having known her, made the final moments of the prayers feel like a fitting farewell for a beloved friend.
She had a gift for loving others, Jennie did, for stepping outside her own world, which was bound by pain and illness, and noticing the people and beauty around her. She loved life; it’s as simple as that. And she shared that love with others. As we were driving solmenly to the commital, I thought once again, of how many times she had asked about all the other people we knew from church, though she had not seen them in years, about the birthday cards she sent her relatives, the cards she sent my daughters when my grandchildren were born. She always turned attention away from herself, toward what was happening in other people’s lives, with genuine interest and compassion. She also was one of the people who, though she rarely spoke of it, held a profound faith in God. She was one of those faithful, strong, quiet, loving, Finnish people who formed the core of St. Paul church in the last generation.
Sometimes, death is a frightening thing, and sometimes death is a doorway. Sometimes it is a peaceful transition, from one form of life into another. For Jennie, who was an Easter person, with Easter faith, death, as the scripture said, had no sting: she was going from life to life, exchanging the perishable for the imperishable, the mortal for the immortal. Sometimes you just know something is true, and I know that about her. People like Jennie are lightposts, signs for others. And people like Jennie help make this world more lovely by their loving presence. I will miss her. I’m grateful to have been Jennie’s pastor, and grateful she is finally at home with her Lord.
Easter season is a time when it’s a little easier to see death with the eyes of faith, from the perspective of the resurrection. Today was one of those days that reminded me, at least, that our Lord loves a garden, loves beauty, and where he walks, spring will always come, for each of us.