Thoreau spoke of lives of quiet desperation. Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living.
I don’t know that I agree with either of them. I may not have enough depth to understand what they were getting at, but I believe we are all spiritual beings capable of transcendent fulfillment.
Some spend their lives running from that idea, and some spend theirs running toward it. A lot of people act as though they’re afraid it might be true, and many seem to make their lives examples of their disdain for it.
But some folks don’t think about such things at all. They don’t keep score and they don’t ask questions. They don’t appear to dig too deep, and they may even seem too simple to understand such matters.
My friend Clyde passed last summer.
In the whole grand fabric of the universe, Clyde may have been nothing but a little cross-stitch. His obituary probably passed unnoticed by most folks. By all outward appearances, life in this world remained more or less the same. But for those more attuned to these things, the balance shifted ever so slightly, as it does each time one of the Clydes of the world passes.
Clyde was an unassuming fellow. He certainly never said much; he wasn’t a community leader, and he never produced any great works of erudition. Beyond his immediate family, he had no big impact and left no lofty contributions to mankind. But whether we recognize it or not, we are richer for his having lived and poorer for his absence.
We are all spiritual beings, even those of us who go through life without making much of a wave. Even those of us who go through life simply putting one foot in front of the other and doing the right thing day in and day out. By their very simplicity and quietness, the great mass of unnoticed people are actually masterpieces of God’s perfect creation of soul and spirit — windows into mind of the Creator. And that which is plainest can be the most beautiful, for in its very simplicity lies purity.
Clyde never did a thing for me; we knew each other only in passing. When Clyde came into my post office to pick up his mail, we would say hello. Clyde was a friendly sort, but he never would say much.
When he was little, folks thought he was stupid. Turns out he couldn’t hear very well. In school, they stuck him in the back of the classroom and pretty much left him be. He never learned to read or write very well, but he worked hard. He worked as a janitor in a sewing plant, and he worked on the farm. At his funeral, folks remembered him as quiet and diligent and, most of all, kind.
I’m the postmaster in Webster, a small, rural town in Jackson County. I like my job. I like that I have the time to talk to folks and get to know them. I like that I can do little things for them. It’s a treat to be able to carry packages out to the car for some of the elderly customers, to spoil them a little and make them feel special.
Clyde would pay what bills he had with money orders. Because he couldn’t write very well, he needed help filling them out. I don’t recall him ever asking me to write them for him, but it became a monthly routine. He would get his two or three money orders, and I would just fill them out. Without thinking, I can still remember the address of Kanawha Insurance.
Clyde was always kind of shy; I guess his hearing problems had made him that way. Every once in a while, though, Clyde would get in the mood to talk; on those days, he would come in and just start up a conversation. We would talk about the weather and the garden, how to fix a Weedeater, or about his new tractor or my new tractor.
Somewhere along the way, Clyde decided that I was his friend and that I was worth trusting. If he had a problem with a bill or a doctor, he would bring it to me. He’d explain the problem as best he could, and I would try to decipher the bill or call the doctor and straighten things out. And he would say thank you and laugh about being muddle-headed.
Clyde’s health wasn’t all that good the last few years, but he still worked hard around his place, and he stayed devoted to his stepmother, taking care of her until the end. He died of heat exhaustion after mowing the family cemetery up on the hill on a day that was too hot. He went home and lay down and just never got up.
Clyde never did a thing for me, but there’s a hole where he was.
There are people who pass through this world quietly, but whether we know it or not, they have an impact on us, and we’re better for having known them.
We are all a part of the fabric of the Creator, and the chance to touch a bit of that fabric — even one little cross-stitch — is precious.
Goodbye, Clyde. You made me better.
[Mark Jamison lives on 67 acres in Jackson County’s Speedwell Community with his wife, Deb, and their five dogs. When not tending the land, he tends the mail and the people of Webster as postmaster.]