This weekend I went for a spectacular, solo, saunter in the hills and woods where I live. If you keep reading, you'll be heading down the rabbit hole of where my mind went. You've been warned! It's fairy long.
As I was ambling along I did kind of a "walking meditation" for a little while. I quieted my thoughts and just experienced the moment. I highly recommend it.
After about 20 minutes of this, I came back to the "noisy" world of my mind and let it go nuts. I thought about some recent threads on paganism and how much of pagan thinking appeals to me. Frankly, I'm sure many Christians have a deep appreciation of the natural world around them, they just don't take it as far as pagans do. (BTW, this thread isn't really about paganism, so if you're a devout Christian who'd rather not read about paganism, hang in there. It'll be OK. Trust me.)
Then my mind drifted onto a person I hadn't thought about for a few years. Clarice. The rest of this thread is dedicated to her memory.
I first met Clarice when I moved into her town and we went to the same JW congregation. She was about 70 years old and I was in my twenties. Clarice became a widow in her sixties and the JWs came calling shortly thereafter. She never had any children to my knowledge. One JW family in particular really took a personal interest in her and she eventually got baptized. I'd say she was their "Honorary Grandma" and the overall JW experience actually did have quite a few positive aspects for her.
I don't know if Clarice ever totally swallowed the whole Watchtower party line or not. If she ever did, I'm sure she at least partially wised up by the time she met me. I base this mainly on the twinkle in her eye that I can still see in my mind's eye. She had a love of life that was unstoppable. I can remember a couple of occasions where some super zealot Witness would be spouting off about the imminent destruction of the wicked or why it's so important that we toe the line on the latest directive from Brooklyn. Clarice would just have this knowing semi-smile on her face and that "I know better" twinkle in her eye. She was not feisty and outspoken. Not that that's a bad thing, it just wasn't her style. (At least not very often.) On the rare occasion that she did speak up to voice her displeasure over some stupidity or injustice, it was with few words. And everyone listened. She had a calm, quiet dignity about her. She was nobody's fool. She truly had the wisdom of years.
I have a suspicion that Clarice may have been a little bit of a closet pagan. At a minimum, I know she loved the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the writings of John Muir. Here's a quote I know she loved:
"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while care will drop off like autumn leaves." Our National Parks, pg.56
(If you want to read some other John Muir quotes, here's a link)
In my mid-twenties I was having my own crisis of conscience of sorts. Should I stay in "The Truth" or not? In short, I stayed because I couldn't bear to break my parent's hearts. That was the biggest reason. At the time I was trying to also convince myself that I just hadn't tried hard enough. Guilt, fear, desire for the paradise. Hammers and carrots.
So I moved to Clarice's congregation with the mind set that I'm going to "make the truth my own" this time. The first morning I spent in service with Clarice was a very pleasant surprise. I discovered we both had a deep love for the outdoors and the Sierra Nevada in particular. I imagine looking back on it that others might have thought "Oh isn't that OM such a nice young brother working in service with Clarice! He could just be hanging out with the young people, but he makes time for the older ones as well."
Bullfeathers. We really enjoyed each other's company and there was no "self-sacrificing" on my part whatsoever. After that first morning in service we regularly sought each other out to work together. I can't ever remember us discussing the Organization or religion at all. Any conversations we had with people at their homes were focused on the beauty and wonders of creation. Most of our time was spent doing the very slow meander between doors talking about the mountains. She and her husband both loved the Sierra Nevada and spent as much of their life as possible hiking, fishing and camping there. I could tell by the way she described him that they were truly kindred spirits.
Now I was trying to be a "good JW" and do my best to have a good reputation with the elders. Periodically I would let Clarice know that I was agonizing over whether I should take a trip to the mountains or not. A "good JW" who's trying to impress the elders doesn't waste time going on too many pleasure trips. Better to knock on doors of empty houses or waking up sleepy, irritated residents. If you've read this far, I'm sure you can guess what Clarice's advice always was: "Oh, OM, just GO! Everyone has regrets when they look back on their life, but I can assure you OM, that I do not regret a SINGLE MOMENT I spent in the mountains. The congregation will still be here when you get back." (See why women aren't allowed to be elders? They'd be giving out good advice right and left!)
Clarice had a modest house deep in the woods and I know she loved it there. The trees and mountains were her temple. The JWs who made her part of their family no doubt brought her comfort in her twilight years. They were good and sincere people. She lived a wonderful life. To my knowledge she never recruited anyone to join the JWs.
I never told Clarice what a profound effect she had on me. I don't think I even fully realized it as it was happening. I know I'm not the only young person whose life was greatly enriched by her.
A. If this life is all there is, then this thread is dedicated to living life Clarice's way.
B. If good people go to Heaven: "Hello Clarice! Thank you for your wisdom. I love you and miss you."
C. If the paradise fantasy is true: "Let's go tackle Mt. Whitney together Clarice!"
Regardless of whether any or none of A, B or C are correct, this much is true:
I Love You Clarice. You are not forgotten.