Janine Pumilia remembers her sister, Linda, and the good she did during her life.
In the fog and shame of this destructive political season, I crave inspiration from those who change lives with love and courage, not hate and fear. People who quietly ask God to work through them each day. People who believe love is the most powerful of all change agents. People who love people. All people.
You know of souls like this – people who send ripples of goodness into the world for the sheer joy of it and ask nothing in return. People who, just by being themselves, inspire others to be better people, too. People whose backbones are made of steel because their faith in love runs so deep. These people are the living sermons we see, if not hear. Maybe you’re one of them. My sister Linda was.
I write this on her birthday, Aug. 24. Linda Carol Huffman Jones died from leukemia in 2010 and would be 72 today. She lived to know one grandchild; three more have since been born.
Some of you remember her as the founder of Healing Pathways Cancer Resource Center here in Rockford. She saw a need and used her last few years of life to meet it, with the help of many good friends.
Others remember how she helped to take down a sham democracy in an oppressive South Korea and replace it with a better government – peacefully. The president of South Korea formally recognized this work shortly before she died.
Still others remember how Linda reached out to people who suffered racism, sexism, poverty, illness, shyness or plain old bad luck. She was a gifted speaker but also a gifted listener. She lifted people up not by asking them to conform to her own religious ideas, but by recognizing and encouraging the goodness already at work inside them. She and her husband, the Rev. David Jones, taught their two kids to give back to the world, thereby opening doors of joy to them.
My three brothers and I still ponder the mysterious elixir of genetic code and life experience that resulted in our sister. Whatever the secret ingredient, it skipped the rest of us entirely, we joke – but we’re not entirely joking. Six years after her passing, we still contemplate the humility, intelligence, humor, compassion, generosity and fearlessness that lived inside her slight frame.
On this, her birthday, David emailed to us a few old photos of Linda. One was taken in the 1950s. She’s pictured with our mom, Naomi, and our grandma, India. In it, I finally see how Grandma’s profound gentleness and Mom’s compassion and moxy came together inside of Linda.
I’m startled, sometimes, when I catch a glimpse of Linda in her children or grandchildren – in the way one of them phrases something or smiles. Three of them never had the chance to meet her, yet she’s there.
It’s only in our middle age that we begin to comprehend how one generation pours into the next, like water leaping from one rocky ledge to another, joining and re-shaping what it touches. From our mid-line vantage point, we see two ends of a generational timeline. How we yearn for the two ends to meet! How they would love each other! But they never can meet, at least not in this life.
I remember how Mom wanted me to know about the relatives she dearly loved who had died before I was born. Where she saw vivid personalities, I could only see fuzzy outlines. I hope that I was attentive to her efforts, but I probably wasn’t. She likely understood this. She was young once, too.
All of us are like those Olympic relay runners who pass the baton to the next person on the team. We don’t see who hands us the baton, but we wouldn’t be here without them.
You and I, too, will be gone from the earth one day. If we’re lucky, someone will try to conjure up memories of us for young people who aren’t really listening, either. That’s OK. We’ll still be a part of them.
Meanwhile, we not-so-young people are still on this earth, extraordinarily well equipped to do good. We know the power of love. Others have helped us to grow. And we know that our young are watching us.
For to see good put in action is what everybody needs.
What transcends are the sermons seen, if not heard. And that’s enough.
Sermons We See
By Edgar A. Guest
I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day;
I’d rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way.
The eye’s a better pupil, and more willing than the ear,
Fine counsel is confusing, but example is always clear.
And the best of all the preachers are the men who live their creeds,
For to see good put in action is what everybody needs.
I soon can learn how to do it if you will let me see it done;
I can watch your hand in action, but your tongue too fast may run.
And the lecture you deliver may be very wise and true,
But I’d rather get my lesson by observing what you do.
For I might misunderstand you and the high advice you give,
But there is no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.
When I see a deed of kindness, I am eager to be kind.
When a weaker brother stumbles, and a strong man stays behind
Just to see if he can help him, then the wish grows strong in me
To become as big and thoughtful as I know that friend to be.
And all travelers can witness that the best of guides today
Is not the one who tells them, but the one who shows the way.
One good man teaches many, men believe what they behold;
One deed of kindness noticed is worth forty that are told.
Who stands with men of honor learns to hold his honor dear,
For right living speaks a language which to everyone is clear.
Though an able speaker charms me with his eloquence, I say,
I’d rather see a sermon than to hear one, any day.