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It began as an ordinary day. There were errands to run, chores to complete, exercise to accomplish. Writing awaited and there was a funeral to attend. Oh ... and there was the newly minted pink streak painted in my hair. I wanted to show my friends what my hairdresser had cajoled me into doing, with the promise I’d be “gorgeous.” My mind raced to arrange a priority list. When all had been checked off, I’d know a sense of fulfillment. Life would be worthwhile.
All the while, a persistent discomfort tugged at my spirit. I felt off balance, somehow. Yet, there was nothing specific to chart, nothing to address or disclaim. So, the minutes moved into hours. The list shortened as each task was attacked. Around 5:45 p.m., only one “task” remained: a quick jaunt to my neighbors’ house to share a laugh about my pink hair. I dashed out the door.
Unbeknownst to me, the phone rang at that precise moment. Hubby Dear answered. The news was grim. Mere moments earlier, our dear friend had died. He was still conversing with the caller when I returned. I could hear his voice saying, “Fran is just coming in the door. I’ll tell her the news.” Before the receiver was replaced, I knew what had happened. He did not need to utter a word. I knew death had entered our life.
During the previous week, I had felt loss — unexplained, unsuspected loss. Emptiness pushed the fullness of living to the far edges of each day. Something was amiss but I had no idea what it might be. I only knew that my delight was muted; the bright color of each day was muted.
Now, the cause was revealed. Death had entered to hone life’s sharpness and clarify its joy. It could not be, it surely would not be, mere coincidence that our dear friend was named Bonnie Joy.
Bonnie Joy was more than the name her parents gave her. It was, and I believe it still is, her identity. She was a woman who offered bonnie joy, as her Scottish forebears would say, to the world in which she lived. Slight in stature and physique, her largesse was discovered in the optimism she both unveiled and shared each day of her life. No one was beyond her reach or touch. Nothing was beyond her ability to try.
When words were insufficient, her smile spoke volumes. When smiles would not meet the need, her quiet presence healed. When she could not be present, her prayers would fill the empty spaces. Geographic distance would be neither an excuse nor an unresolvable gap.
I cannot remember when Hubby Dear and I first met Bonnie. It almost seems as if we have known her all our lives. What we do remember is immeasurable kindness and generosity. More often than we can count, there would be “Bonnie Joy containers” at our doorstep or in our car — containers filled with food and goodies to make our hard times easier and to give Hubby Dear his tapioca treat. Her name emblazoned with magic marker was not as a reminder for us to thank her. It was a way to return the containers for refilling, not just for us but for anyone in need. These were vehicles to transport her “bonnie joy” near and far.
Whenever I think of her, I am reminded of the hymn, “Here, I Am, Lord.” Its words reverberate her being. “I, the Lord of sea and sky. I have heard my people’s cry. I who made the stars of night, I will make their darkness bright. Who will bear My light to them? Whom shall I send?”
Bonnie’s constant response was: “Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord? I have heard You calling in the night. I will go Lord, if You lead me. I will hold Your people in my heart.”
Without hesitation, without acclamation, Bonnie’s continued choice was to hold God’s people in her heart. She did it by putting them in her hands. She did it by listening to their needs. She did it by saying, “yes” when it would not only have been easier to say, “no,” it would have been understandable.
Health issues assailed Bonnie. They hit often and hard but they could not penetrate the wall of faith surrounding her. She took her call to discipleship seriously. She lived it strenuously and consistently. Illness would not cripple her nor dampen her spirit nor quench her desire to serve. In every sense of the title, she was a daughter of the king.
Yet, Bonnie would be the first to claim imperfection, the first to point elsewhere to others who did more, were holier, prayed more fervently. It was never about Bonnie, only about the bonnie joy God wished to spread through her presence.
My tears have dried as I typed these words. My heart is uplifted. I know I’ll cry again. I’ll feel loss, bereavement, grief. I’ll miss seeing a slightly impish grin spread into a wide smile on my friend’s face. I’ll miss her gracious presence and her generous, “That’s OK!” to eradicate my bumbling and fumbling. I’ll miss her. I already do!
In that pain, however, I feel a new presence. A full moon is brightly shining in a cloudless October sky — and I see Bonnie. My computer awakens with a screensaver radiating Bonnie’s smile. The monthly meeting of our book study group will have an empty chair, Bonnie’s chair, but we will know her in the exchange of ideas about women no longer silent in Scripture. Church clothes closets and food pantries will announce “Bonnie” to my ears. Cursillo meetings will ring with her voice in opening songs — all easy ones, please! When we search the Scriptures at the Roman Catholic church, we’ll remember our special Episcopalian member with profound love.
There will be no way we can bring our Bonnie back to us from the sea of death. I know she’d not want to return, no matter how much love we share. What we can do, what I will do, is to bring back memories of the bonnie joy we had once received. We’ll bring them back to share with others — and sing with her, “Here I am, Lord. Is it I? Lord, I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.”
I send this promise to Bonnie Joy, with love.
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of “Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives,” lead chaplain at Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer and grandmother of four. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.