By David E. Crosby, Pastor of First Baptist Church New Orleans
NEW ORLEANS — The interstate was jammed with commuters at drive time. I started thinking about my friend, almost 100 years old, and wondering what words of wisdom I would glean as I visited her in the hospital. I determined that I would listen carefully and, if necessary, prompt her with questions.
I saw her super-gripper socks when I glanced in the door, and finally her face as I walked past the curtain. Her hair was matted from a night on the pillow, something she would never countenance when healthy. Every hair was in place every time I saw Myrtle Louise Ainsworth—usually even when she was sick.
“Hello, Myrtle Louise,” I said. I was the only person in her life who called her by both names, and she often responded by calling me both of mine –David Eldon.
“I was wondering where you were,” she remarked dryly.
I took a seat at the foot of the bed. “I just had the best breakfast of my life,” she said enthusiastically, “soupy grits, scrambled eggs, toast and jelly.”
My ears perked up. Many people are not so grateful for hospital food.
“My doctor is so sweet,” she said, and I wondered if all his patients felt the same. I guessed that her statement indicated more about her than it did about her physician.
“I waited too late, they say. I have this thing in here,” and she gestured at her throat. “I can’t remember what they called it.”
“Anyway, they can’t fix it,” she said matter-of-factly. “It was a shock to hear, of course, even at my age. They think I might live two years. But I’m not afraid. I am ready to go.”
Her volume dropped a notch then, and she spoke just above a whisper. “I woke up one morning very ill,” she said.
I leaned toward her bed. She looked at me and said, “I was in my room, and I thought I was dying.” She shook her head slowly, “That never happened before.”
She paused to think for a moment, then continued, “Everything was very quiet and still. And peace filled my room and filled me.” She smiled and said, “It was amazing.”
I heard God speaking to me through Myrtle Louise that morning in the hospital. I heard him saying, “Be grateful every day for the simple blessings of life.” Ingratitude is listed in the Bible among the most horrific sins. Many people seem to have no gratitude in their hearts. Despite good health, material prosperity, and amazing personal liberties, they still find much to fuel their anger and resentment. God was telling me to watch my heart for any hint of ingratitude.
I also heard God saying, “Don’t be afraid of anything, including dying.” Life is too short to live in fear. “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). Enjoy today, God was saying to me, and embrace the future.
Myrtle Louise meant so much to me. She was my friend for 20 years, and I was her pastor. She cared for me, and I for her. We shared many significant moments.
Her husband, Max, was a member of the pastor search committee that called me to come to First Baptist New Orleans. My first experience of Myrtle Louise was sitting around the table at the New Orleans Country Club where she and Max hosted the search committee on our visit to meet with them and see First Baptist.
I officiated at the memorial service for Max in 2005, only four weeks before Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and destroyed the home where Max and Myrtle had lived for some 40 years. Myrtle lost her husband and her home in that fateful month of August 2005. I traveled to the cemetery at Rose Hill, 180 miles north of New Orleans up Interstate 59 almost all the way to Meridian, Mississippi. The Green Valley Cemetery was small and peaceful and lost in the pine forest. Myrtle lived in her ancestral home for about a year after Hurricane Katrina and visited Max’s grave often.
Myrtle Louise died a few days after our conversation in the hospital. We laid her body to rest in the Green Valley Cemetery in Rose Hill next to Max. Her demeanor and words so near her death — they were God’s message to me. I pass them on for consideration on your journey.