fan·fare (fanfâr) A spectacular public display
I once wrote a lesson on the musical masterpiece ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’, by Aaron Copland for a curriculum guide published by the New York Philharmonic. If you’ve never heard it, take a moment to listen to it here. In the lesson, students learn that composers are often inspired by things in the world around them.
For example, Britten’s ‘A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra‘ was inspired by a movie project to educate children about the orchestra. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 was inspired by nature. Ravel’s Bolero was inspired by Spanish dance.
Fanfare for the Common Man is a majestic piece inspired by common, everyday heroes. I don’t know about you, but I find these kinds of heroes far more interesting than the comic book kind.
In the following paragraphs allow me to introduce you to an incredibly humble heroine who never won an award or received any accolades. This is my Fanfare (though a verbal one) for a common woman.
Her little brown hands had sunspots from decades spent hunched over the earth tending her garden. Fresh cucumbers, carrots, and speckled eggs collected from the chicken coop littered her kitchen counter. She knew how to get two crops of green beans in during one summer and spent a mere $7 a week on groceries. She didn’t have much, so she gave away the vegetables that she canned to her friends. Her cooking was laden with unhealthy amounts of lard and salt, but it was worth every caloric bite. People said she could accurately predict the sex of your baby by how you were carrying it and as far as I know she was only wrong one time. (That’s how I ended up with the name Misty- thanks a lot Grandma!) Anytime my granddad drove her anywhere she was pressed right up next to him in the car, even after being married for 60 years. Quilting was a part of her daily routine, even though her joints ached. Evening hours were often spent sewing patches of fabric from dresses her daughters wore as children into heirlooms to pass down to us. She loved her nine kids boundlessly and was especially protective of her boys. Her girls had been raised to be like her and because of it she never seemed to worry as much about them.
Towards the end of her life, my uncle and aunt moved in with her to help with her care. One night, my cousin heard her praying while he was there visiting. “God, I’m not going to be here much longer and I don’t want any of my family to be lost. I am a little senile and I can’t even remember all their names. Oh Lord,” she wept, “have mercy on their souls!” And then one-by-one she cried out each name. “On my son Tim- have mercy Lord. On my granddaughter Misty- have mercy Lord. On my great-granddaughter Kayla- have mercy Lord.” And on and on she went. And when she would stumble and forget a name she would beg the Lord to have mercy on the people she forgot. These prayers seemed to be heaved from deep inside her and the passion behind them was heart wrenching. My cousin left the house and went out on the car port where his mom was sitting. “Grandma sounds so sad,” he said. “I hate to hear her pray like that.”
“She prays like that every night,” said his mother.
My little grandmother passed away unexpectedly early that summer. She was perfectly healthy one day and took a bad fall the next. Her living will insisted that we allow her to die peacefully at home, so we spent those last few days gathered around her hospital bed in the living room. As we sang hymns about going home she tried to raise her hands up in the air to worship. She didn’t have strength to keep them up, so we held them up for her.
Occasionally in those final days she would have flashes of absolute lucidity. One of those moments happened with my Aunt Irene who was in desperate need of a life-saving kidney transplant. My little grandma looked up at her oldest daughter from her bed and said, “Once I get there I’m just gonna have to ask God to bring someone home in an accident that is a perfect match for you so you can get your kidney.” We all chuckled at the cheeky comment, thrilled at this burst of energy and coherence.
She passed that night amid prayers and gentle singing, quietly surrounded by her five daughters. Her last words were, “Jesus, help me cross over.” At the service, her pastor summed up her life like this, “This is a woman who talked with God.”
As I sat there reflecting on this legacy of prayer I couldn’t help but wonder about what will happen when her generation dies out entirely? We are covered by their prayers, but unless someone takes up the mantle for our children and our children’s children crying, “Lord, have mercy,” where will they be? The burden that she felt for our family was as real to her as any physical need. Do we feel the burden for our loved ones as deeply? Do we cry out their names with such fervor?
And there is evidence that my little grandma had the ear of God and all of these prayers were not in vain. A few short weeks after her passing, that perfect kidney came to my Aunt in exactly the way she had predicted.
Myrtle Horn. She was an uncommon woman indeed. In James 4:10 the Bible says it this way: “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.” She may not have earned any accolades here, but we could almost hear the applause of heaven as this quiet, simple, praying woman crossed over. May we all leave such a lasting legacy.
2013 Copyright by Misty Tolle
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