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Jewish World Review Dec. 31, 2002 / 26 Teves, 5763

Tom Purcell

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They provide unending joy to those who are wise enough to let them in | This is the time of year that the media features the celebrities and famous who died in 2002, while ignoring stories of the people who really matter. That's why I'm going to share the story of Josephine Flack.

Josephine was born 83 years ago in a small mining town near Pittsburgh. She was the youngest of seven and the only one in the family to attend college. Her father worked in the mines and money was tight, but her mother scrimped and saved, and Josephine was able to graduate from Duquesne University with a bachelor's degree in nursing.

As a private duty nurse, Josephine devoted herself to her patients. As their bodies withered away from cancer or some other horrible illness, Josephine applied heavy doses of positive energy, breathing dignity into their tired spirits. She connected with her patients, befriended them, then paid the price for caring when they were eventually taken away.

For many years she lived a simple existence. When she was 29 years old she married and was soon blessed with two boys and a girl. She went to church and nurtured her family. She worked hard in her profession, and her talents were recognized; she was selected to be a teacher in a hospital-nursing program. She involved her family in volunteer work for the Cancer Society. And when neighbors called at all hours for help with someone who was hurt or ill, Josephine never complained.

You see, Josephine was a writer. She wrote poetry most of her life and in writing her poems she was writing the story of her own life. She was articulating who she was and what she believed in, and what she believed in most of all was beauty, which she captured well in a poem she called "Flowers:"

As I opened the door
I was handed the most beautiful arrangement of flowers.
In their silence I heard them speak
As they held their arms out,
While holding their heads up high,
Some were as straight as arrows,
Others were slanted and bent as in supplication.
What I loved most was the message they sent.
We are here en masse
and give unending joy to those who let us in.

She also wrote poems to convey important messages to her children. In a poem she called "Success," she set out basic principles she expected her children and grandchildren to live by. Here are just a few lines of that poem:

We find love and satisfaction the more we give of ourselves, Practicing mind over matter, And meeting the most negative challenges head on --- " unafraid."

Well, Josephine faced life head on unafraid for all 83 years of her life. When she learned that cancer had taken root in her body, she didn't fret over it. No, she picked up her pen and wrote a letter to her children.

She reminded them to be loving and kind. She told them to laugh --- to always have a light heart and never take themselves too seriously. She told them to never wait for somebody else to carry the load, but to grab the ball and run with it.

She quoted "A Simple Prayer," which provides the best roadmap to live by:

"Where there is hatred, let us sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is discord, union. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. And where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console. To be understood, as to understand. To be loved, as to love. For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life."

As I said, this weekend the media is featuring celebrities who died in 2002, but Josephine's story is one that really matters. The Josephines in our world are the caretakers of all that is truly important. They teach us to see beauty and hope and goodness. They breathe strength and resolve in us, so that we may learn to live these virtues and share them with our own children.

The Josephines in our world show us how to write our own beautiful stories. And they provide unending joy to those who are wise enough to let them in.

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© 2002, Tom Purcell