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Seeing the magnificence of God in a life well lived

One of the great blessings of my job as a journalist is to get to know so many great human beings.

Lately, it seems I’ve been going to quite a lot of funerals commemorating the passing of men and women who have made great contributions to their communities during their time on earth. It is truly humbling to sit for a time and witness such amazing energy, faith and perseverance of so many people.

I am reminded of a character in John Grisham’s famous book, “The Last Juror.” The character is the publisher of the Ford County Times and spends all his time writing beautiful, elaborate obituaries of anyone who dies in the county. That would be my dream job.

I am fascinated by obituaries and read them word-for-word every morning in my local newspaper, trying to envision the rich universe of details in between the lines of conventional obituary prose.

I hesitate to write about any one person, because I only know a finite number of the great men and women who pass on from our community. For every person I know personally, there are dozens of equally great people who I don’t know and can’t write about.

And there are thousands of people from our community who pass from the world in relative obscurity, known only to a handful of family and friends. Yet to those handfuls, their passing is a cataclysmic event, creating an unimaginable world in which they no longer reside.

Yes, I know there are some people who die and leave this world having lived lives far from their potential. I just don’t see many lives like that. Instead, I see men and women achieving amazing feats of love, patience, endurance, faith and creativity, whether on a big public stage or a smaller quiet stage of family and friends.

The Sun’s computer guru Nick Athanassov lost his wife suddenly from cancer. I only met Martha once when I visited Nick’s church, the Word of Life, out on Lakeland Drive in Flowood. Several of us from the Sun attended her funeral.

Martha’s daughter Joanna spoke many words about her wonderful mother. But one phrase really stuck in my mind. She said something like, “My mother was the living embodiment of kindness. Every moment of her life, she devoted to being kind to others.”

As far as I know, Martha wrote no books or made no world-changing inventions. She was a nurse. Yet can anyone ask for a better epithet than that?

Dr. Mart McMullan passed away last week and hundreds attended his funeral at Northminster Baptist Church.

Big Mart, as he was called, left an enormous wake. He was a heart surgeon in the hey-day of heart surgery, where cracking chests and replacing arteries saved men and women on the brink of death. It was a big role on a big stage. He was larger than life.

But there was far more talk about Big Mart’s kindness and love of life, than his statistical feats as one of the world’s great heart surgeons.

Person after person standing up to speak talked of how Big Mart befriended every nurse, every orderly, every janitor in the hospital, getting to know them and their families on a personal basis. He treated one and all with equal kindness and attention. His smile was infectious. He loved to laugh and joke. His energy was unstoppable.

This went on until the day he died. Three of his grandsons spoke of the days at the hunting camp, where their grandfather patiently taught them to hunt and shoot in the context of more important lessons such as patience and self control. He never missed a sports event.

One of the hallmarks of his life is that every grandchild, every child and every associate thought he or she was Big Mart’s special favorite. What an amazing gift! To make every one feel special. Even me, I remember how he smiled so big whenever he saw me. I felt special.

Big Mart loved his church. His family made sure his faithful old Mercedes was parked out front during the service, just the way it always was every Sunday morning.

It was a long, beautiful service, a celebration of life. Every speaker at some point battled to keep their composure, lest they be overcome with emotion. Big Mart’s son, Mart, ended the service with the most amazing rendition of “Amazing Grace” I have ever heard.

As Mart sang, everyone in the church could feel something bigger than Mart and even bigger than Big Mart, directing, controlling, energizing all of this.

All of this is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is God’s creativity and magnificence, reflected yet again in a life so well-lived. It is for this we should live in enduring gratefulness, even in the sorrow of losing those we so dearly love.

Wyatt Emmerich is a columnist, writer and publisher in Jackson. He can be reached at wyatt@northsidesun.com.