“People were created to be loved. Things were created to be used. The reason why the world is in chaos is because things are being loved and people are being used.” Dali lama
North West Brook, Newfoundland is a small community located next to Clarenville, a focal point for many outliers, just two hours north west (hence its name) of St. John’s. Though I was born on the Rock, as NL is called, that part of the island was unfamiliar territory. Upon my first visit I can truthfully say, it is simply a beautiful place. A small number of homes outline the water’s edge which opens up into Trinity Bay. My Uncle Will Bursey was born there, eighty five years ago. Over the course of his life he worked as a heavy equipment operator in various locals but settled in Corner Brook. There he met his wife Gwen, my mom’s only sibling, a sister. I was born on Aunt Gwen’s birthday, December 19th.
A small gathering of family and friends assembled at the NWB community church to bid farewell to a wife, a sister, an aunt and a friend. Tributes were given, songs were song and prayers were offered, all in a manner as one would expect at a traditional funeral service. At several receptions kind words were spoken of a woman who was remembered for her brilliant and inviting smile. But the words of her faithful and respectful husband stirred my heart and challenged my mind.
My brother Harold and I were accompanying Uncle Will from his place of lodging to the church. As we travelled the road parallel to the shining water, Uncle Will pointed out a rock on which as a kid he sat many times with a fishing rod in hand, ready to land that evasive salmon or slippery trout. We suggested in a few months once the harsh Atlantic weather cleared, he will be able to do the same again. He laughed. As we drew closer to the church in which Aunt Gwen lay, awaiting a final farewell and then burial, Uncle Will, as he recalled fifty five years of marriage, made a striking and powerful statement: “I was good to her. I have no regrets.”
I was good to her.
Uncle Will and Aunt Gwen had no biological children to call their own, but they had many nieces and nephews. The impression they left on others and on me was summed in those five words.
I thought of what Uncle Will meant when he declared “I was good to her”. But then quickly his meaning was brought to my attention. I recalled the words written in the first book of Corinthians, chapter thirteen.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a ringing gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have absolute faith so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and exult in the surrender of my body but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered; it keeps no account of wrongs. Love takes no pleasure in evil, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.
Love never fails.
Uncle Will was simply saying, “I loved her, and the oath I offered to her fifty five years ago in the presence of family and friends and under the law of man/women and God, was manifested in how I respected Gwen in all I said and did.”
What a testimony! What an example! What a legacy!
I recently attended a session where the leader challenged us on the subject of relationship. He had placed two very large black chalk boards on each side of the room. On one board we were to write the names of those people who had been “good to us”. On the other board, we were to write the names of those who needed us to be “good to them”. Though I did not physically participate in the exercise, mentally I made two lists as suggested. I thought of those people who had invested their time and resources in my life to help me along life’s journey. I could name many individuals who were good to me. I then made a list of those in whose lives I believed I had made a difference, who I thought I was by my actions, good. But how would I really know? I then proceeded to make a third list, a list of my immediate family: Linda, Richard, Joanna, my mom Joyce, my step-mother in law Diane, my brothers David, John, Harold and Lloyd and my sister Barbara. I remembered those who had passed, my dad William, my father in law Bill, and my mother in law Ruby. For them all, could I say “I was good to them”?
This simple principle of life is stated and confirmed in two equally powerful commandments from the Holy Scriptures:
“In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law.”
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has also fulfilled the law.”
Very intelligent and learned men and women have written volumes of laws to manage our behaviour focusing on our relationship with one another. So often these rules have failed us. Murder, domestic violence, bullying, hateful language, broken families, wayward kids, assault, theft, fear mongering, deceit, fraud, lies and abuse have not been eliminated but in many cases continuously overwhelms communities like an out of control and raging fire. Our damaging behaviours give birth to savage dictators, wars and crimes against humanity, oppression and even starvation.
But what if each one of us reflected on our relationship with others and tested our behaviours against this one question: Was I good to her, to him?
If you or I said no to that question regarding someone we had relationship with or are in a relationship, what would we need to change to say yes?
If you or I said yes to the same question, do we believe those people we have acknowledged would agree with us?
It is said that it is appointed to us to live, to die and then judgement. How then shall I live? When I die, how then shall I be judged?
Uncle Will was not an educated man. Nor was he wealthy. But the legacy he left behind for us was worth more than gold could buy or a learned person could write. As Aunt Gwen was lowered into a frozen ground, he bent over and kissed the container that held her safely. We observed a man of principle, one who taught us to put others’ needs before our selfish desires, to treat them with love, with respect, to honor them in word and deed and to do unto them as we would want them to do unto us.
A simple man who lives a purposeful life with no regrets left us this message: “Be good and do good to everyone you are in relationship with!” WB