Yesterday, Pam and I went to the funeral of the grandfather of a former employee. We don’t go to many funerals and haven’t since the funeral of our daughter, Alicia. No one enjoys funerals, but there are some funerals that are more positive and optimistic than others. Such was the funeral of James Louie Poythress. We went because we wanted to support his family during this most difficult time, but after the service we felt supported and comforted ourselves.
I didn’t know Louie well, but after yesterday, I feel comfortable calling him that. Louie died on Tuesday, February 17, 2009 at the age of 84. He served a tour of duty with the Third Infantry Division in Germany during World War II. He graduated with a Master’s degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 28 years. He was married to his wife, Betty, for 58 years and together with his wife, they raised a son and a daughter. He was the grandfather of three grandsons and two granddaughters. If statistics were all there were to Louie’s life, these surely would have been enough. But if that’s all there was, I wouldn’t be writing this.
Louie had a large extended family and he had a lot of friends as was evidenced by the number of people who came the funeral. One of his friends gave one of the most unique eulogies I’ve ever heard and it pains me that I can’t remember the speaker’s name. I know he is a minister and I know that he was Louie’s friend for over 60 years and was a groomsman 58 years ago when Louie married Betty. Hopefully, he’ll forgive me for not rembering his name, but I suspect that he would still be pleased that people are reading this. He told of his friendship with Louie and said he was sure that Louie was happy and well satisfied at the end of his journey being with God. But what he said next caught my imagination and spoke to my spirit.
Louie’s life reminds me of a young boy of about 10 years of age walking through a pasture on a clear sunny day under the bluest of blue skies. As the boy walks aimlessly through the wild grass he comes upon a cow pond. He looks at the glassy, smooth surface of the water and the bright sunshine reflected off the water and he can’t resist. Being like most young boys, he looks around for a rock. When he has found one, he stretches back as far as he can and throws it as high and as hard as he can. He watches the rock as it rises into the sky and then in a graceful arc begins to fall back to earth. He watches the rock as it hits the surface of the pond and makes a terrific splash leaving behind a series of ever-widening ripples spreading out to touch all the edges of the pond.
Louie’s life was like that rock. Rising up against the bluest sky and in a graceful arc his life touched the sky. On Tuesday there was a splash and Louie died leaving behind only ripples. Ripples reflected in the lives of his wife, his children, his grandchildren, his extended family, his friends, his associates and even people who didn’t know him personally. Given a chance those ripples will go on forever.
I was captivated by the story as I visualized the boy, the rock and the pond. I was reminded of the fact that we will never know the impact we have on the people around us, including people we may never get to know very well. On the day of his funeral, Louie’s friend gave a eulogy from his heart based on his 60 year friendship with Louie and through his friend, Louie touched our souls and the ripples began again.
I was reminded by Louie’s friend that life is not about the journey we take in our lives and it’s not about the splash we make. Life is about the ripples we leave behind. It is good for us to be mindful of the ripples we leave and strive to be like Louie. Even at his funeral, the ripples of Louie’s life rolled over me and filled me with optimism and encouraged my soul.
Thanks, Louie. Job well done.
UPDATE 02/23/2009: I have learned since posting this article that the speaker’s name was Carlos Evans. I to apologize again to him again for not remembering his name while writing this, but I wanted to make sure I gave him credit for a wonderful story.