It’s A Wonderful Life”
In 1946, Frank Capra made a low-budget movie called “It’s A Wonderful Life”. This movie told the story of a man who spent his life in a small town, never really realizing his dream. His dream was to travel the world and get away from the small town. His dreams were always put on hold due to other problems; problems with his family (they were poor) problems with his job at the family’s small business. He was a kind and gentle man and was always looking out for the other guy, willing to help. As his life wore on and his problems mounted he became despondent and finally decided to take his life on Christmas Eve. Now it seems that God was watching over him and sent a guardian angel to protect him. After an encounter with the angel, he complained about his failures in life and wished he had never been born. Well, it seems that the angel thought that this would be a good way to save him, so he granted his wish and the world was as if he was never born. As he and the angel wandered back into town, he noticed things were different. The town was not the nice place he remembered. His children didn’t exist and his wife and mother didn’t know him. The people he had helped out in life with loans were despondent and down on their luck because he hadn’t been there to help them. His little brother, whom he had saved from drowning when he was very young and who went on to become a navy pilot who saved a troop transport ship full of men during WW2 and won the Congressional Medal of Honor, was not alive because he had not been there to save him from drowning. And, those men on the troop ship also died because the brother never lived long enough to save them. Nobody in town knew him. Nobody cared. It was then that he realized that he had touched many people during his lifetime, a lifetime he considered a failure. Its funny, isn’t it when you think about what the world would be like if you weren’t born. We just don’t think about all the people we touch in life. We are too preoccupied with our own world.
Well, Lee touched a lot of people in his life. Lee was a teacher for 35 years. 35 years in a high school teaching career. Do you realize how frustrating that could be? But do you also realize how rewarding that could be? Much is said today about heroes and all around us the world is clamoring for heroes; firemen, policemen, soldiers – all very heroic occupations. But I think that teaching our children is a very heroic endeavor, an endeavor that too often goes unnoticed. There is no finer calling in life than to teach a child. All successful people can usually point to a teacher who has influenced their lives and I’m sure that each and every one of you can think of a teacher who helped you in life. Lee probably touched thousands of students in his 35 years in school. Some subtly, some profoundly, but I wonder if he ever realized just how many lives he influenced? My wife was one of his students. He referred to her as “motor-mouth Mary”. Now, Lee didn’t suffer fools gladly, he made you work for your grades. But, I hope he realized that he did make a difference. My wife is now a nurse and a darn good one I might add. She has said numerous times that she would not have made it through college biology if it hadn’t been for Mr. Lee Hurlburt. What a waste if my wife would never have become a nurse because she has taken what Lee gave her and has passed it on to countless nursing students whom she has, in turn, taught. And, to really prove my point about how we all touch someone’s life, two of the nurses who cared for Lee in his final days at St. Luke’s were two of his students from Fonda who also went on to become nurses. We all touch other people. Lee did it in a positive way. Those people for whom he mowed lawns and shoveled walks will miss him, and those he would meet in the restaurant round table discussions in the mornings will miss him. His fishing buddies will miss him. And the young kids from Fonda, whenever they felt like fishing, could always go down to Lee’s Bait Shop at any time and buy bait. If Lee wasn’t around you just took what you wanted and left the money in the refrigerator. It was an honor system and Lee trusted the people. Now that’s integrity, that’s belief in the small town values that Lee was so much a part of.
Death always comes as a shock. It doesn’t matter how long it has been expected, or how well you’ve prepared for it, or how many times you’ve rehearsed in your mind what that moment might be like, or how much you’ve steadied yourself for its coming, it always comes too soon. It always comes at the wrong time.
But death is a fact. It draws us up short. It causes pain, grief and separation. It causes us to feel emptiness and heartache. There is an empty spot, a break in the family circle. And we grieve, we recall experiences, we feel the pain that death brings.
So what tools do we need in these days to deal with our grief? What tools do we turn to that will ease our pain and move us into the days ahead? God has given us some direction in His word: The book of Ecclesiastes we read from earlier notes that there is a season for everything under heaven: a time to remember, a time to weep, a time to heal, a time to be born and yes, a time to die.
One tool is our memory. In these days it is helpful to recall all the fond memories of times spent with Lee. In speaking with Lee’s daughters Julie, Jackie and Sonia, they recalled fond memories of going with their dad to the resort every weekend in May as young girls to get it ready for summer. They remembered dad’s singing and teaching them songs. Lee loved music and many of the songs we heard today were favorites of Lee and we will never listen to them again without recalling him. It is to open the memory bank of the mind and share those common experiences, which were meaningful in shaping life, and in which life was found to be meaningful. The treasure chest of memory is one of God’s precious tools to help us grieve.
Certainly this is a time to weep. God has given the gift of tears, I believe, to help us cleanse our spirits. Tears come from deep within us to cleanse, and purge, and open the way for the fresh waters of life--living waters of faith. And faith is the tool that brings healing. God has promised to be with us. In fact, God has come to be near us in His Son Jesus. It is faith in Jesus, his life saving death and resurrection, that gives us hope. We are told that God loved us enough to give his son for us that in believing; we might have life, life in his name. So this is a time to look to faith, to find renewal in our commitments to God.
And the last tool we have is God’s promise that nothing will separate us from His love. Not death, not separation, not one thing. NO matter what, God promises to be with us. And in death, he promises to hold us in his loving arms. We know, and believe, that there is no better place to be than in the arms of Jesus, safe in his loving arms, where he holds us in love.
Godspeed Lee, and I hope you catch the big one. Amen