Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

September 27, 2009


People of courage inspire us get back in the game


          The word “quit” is not in the vocabulary of some people. No matter how tough the situation, these rare people keep smiling and refuse to give up. Such people inspire us. They help us believe we too can find courage for our own struggles with the seemingly unbearable issues of life.

          I think of my dear friend Thomas Samford. Diagnosed with terminal cancer and told he had less than a year to live, Thomas kept smiling. Having served as the legal counsel for Auburn University for 30 years, he knew the value of good counsel during a crisis. So Thomas turned to a counselor he had known only casually, got to known him intimately, and found the help he needed to make his last years the most productive of his life.

           This counselor prompted Thomas to give thanks for his cancer. He rejected self-pity or asking “Why me?” “Because of my illness,” he said, “I discovered the true meaning of life.” Instead of dying within a year, Thomas lived another 10 years, touching hundreds of lives with his contagious smile and remarkable courage. One friend said of Thomas, “He showed us how to die – with dignity and without fear.”

          People of courage and their stories become treasures of our minds and hearts. In hard times these memories spur us on. I remember Joe Hamilton, a homebound member in my first parish. On my first pastoral visit Joe greeted me in his wheelchair. Diabetes had robbed him of a leg but he did not whine about it. He cheerfully talked about former days when he could walk and run.

          A few months later Joe called to tell me that the doctor would have to cut off his other leg. “I will be all right,” he said; “I still have both arms.” And he was all right. Joe taught me when I was young that a man can find the courage not to walk the path of self-pity.

          Visiting Joe was always a challenge. His Chihuahua did not like me. That little dog barked from the time I arrived until I drove off. He never stopped yelping at me. I wanted to step on him and send him on to heaven but the dog was Joe’s constant companion. Small and ugly though he was, that dog meant the world to Joe. The dog never knew it but he owed his life to me; I let him live because my friend Joe needed him. Joe drew strength from his dog, and I drew strength from Joe’s courage.

          I remember Sherrill Morrison, the only man I ever knew who was run over by an 18-wheeler and lived to tell about it.  For years Sherrill was the “Go to” guy at his church. When someone needed an errand run, Sherrill was ready to take care of it. When he got sick he refused to complain. Even when everyone knew his doctor had equipped him with a pain pump, Sherrill would not admit that he hurt. When asked how he was feeling, his answer was always one word: “Super.” At his funeral his pastor Earl Ballard honored Sherrill’s courage when he said, “Superman has died.” But the memory of Sherrill’s heroic spirit lives on in many hearts.

          I remember Miss Johnnie Johnston who was 88 when I met her. I admired her oil paintings and she gave me one. It was an altar scene, an open Bible on a pulpit with two pots of flowers surrounding it. “I painted that one when I was 85. I had to paint it with my left hand because my right hand had been paralyzed by a stroke.” Miss Johnnie never complained. She stayed busy painting, cooking, and doing things for other people. She taught me that a cheerful spirit can be maintained even in old age by those who find the courage to keep smiling.  

          I remember Maud. She was a widow who lived alone but she was not a bitter recluse.  If she was ever depressed, she kept it to herself. Whenever Maud was around people were smiling and laughing. She was a carrier of good cheer.

A cake baker with few equals, Maud often showed up at our door with my favorite – a chocolate cake. Her apparent joy in giving a cake away almost equaled my joy in receiving one. Many women crochet; Maud baked cakes. Her cheerful countenance was an inspiration.

When it comes my time to slip through that thin curtain that separates this life from the next, I hope I can exit with courage.  I want to follow the example of those beautiful people who kept smiling through hard times and refused to give up. I owe them a debt I can repay only by imitating their courage. And I know where to find it.  + + +