By LOREN BEACHY Columnist
---- — The sun is sinking. I glance out the corner window in Vernon’s shop. I am reminded of the auction we held here just a few months ago. Then the visitation line moves. My gaze moves the other direction and downward, onto the old familiar face lying in the casket. Freeman S. has passed on.
I look my last. Of course, we’ll hardly remember Freeman’s face like this. Rather, the perpetually grinning, sparkly eyed, belly laughing Freeman S. is the one who will be lodged in our memory.
The line shuffles forward, shaking hands and murmuring a few words with Freeman’s close relatives who are seated facing each other over a narrow aisle. And then, right behind the family, visible without being conspicuous, is the community.
This community is the one that turned out in huge numbers in March when Vernon had his farm auction. Now it’s 12 weeks later and Vernon is burying his father. The community is here again.
When I read the obituary today, I was surprised to see how small Freeman’s family is. He had two daughters and two sons — small by our standards. Usually, it is large families that lend themselves to large auctions and large weddings, church services, baptismals and funerals. There is no large family here. But there is support all over the place.
There is LeRoy with his wife. He lives across the fields, owns a woodworking business and loves playing Rook. His daughters are students of Freeman’s grandson Calvin. There are Elmer and Alice, from a few miles up the road in Honeyville. They work at the same local sale barn that Freeman worked at. Over yonder stand Tim and Violet. They live in the same Michigan community as Freeman’s daughter Polly.
We’ve heard people say, “We don’t fully realize what we have here until something tragic happens to our family.” Freeman died yesterday morning. Help poured in from neighbors and friends who abandoned their plans for Saturday and came to make preparations for a funeral. I wasn’t there, but Calvin tells me the barn was cleaned, floors were swept, things were moved, the shop was washed and a tent was put up. I’ve seen it happen in our neighborhood, too.
Monday night, three inches of rain fell at Vernon’s farm, where the funeral was to be held Tuesday. Rain flooded the buggy parking area, ran through the toolshed where people were to be seated and pooled in the barn. The neighbors anticipated this and by 5:30 in the morning, people were pouring in the driveway. The mess was cleaned up without the family having to lift a finger.
A few years ago, when an accident on the Toll Road claimed the lives of a few men in the same church, it was almost more than one district could handle. So, the surrounding districts pitched in and picked up the slack — warmly, quickly and compassionately.
We hope, and we pray, and we are thankful that this is how God intended it to be. Like a living patchwork quilt, each individual is connected to the pieces around him. Those pieces are connected to another ring beyond the first. When one piece, one soul, rejoices, the entire quilt rejoices. When one person suffers, the whole quilt suffers, and each piece reaches out toward the sufferer, doing what it can to ease the pain, to smooth the path.
Of course, we notice and appreciate the community at times of rejoicing like at baptisms and weddings or business events like auctions. But it is when we suffer a loss, when our hearts are left grasping for answers that we feel Christ’s church most acutely. It is there. It soothes. And it carries us through.
As any quilter will tell you, a quilt is only separate flimsy pieces of fabric without thread and without a backing. The backing supporting us all is Jesus Christ. The thread holding us all together is love. And even that thread, that love, is God.
After all, God is love. And the community is simply an extension of him.
Loren Beachy is an auctioneer and elementary school teacher. He can be reached by writing to 14047 S.R. 4, Goshen, IN 46528 or by calling 574-642-1180.