St Anthony of the Desert

Orthodox Christian Mission

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Fr Gabriel

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Love From Lace Curtains to Laptop Computers

Shirley Mannery died toward the end of winter. She was ninety-four, and she was full of life until near the end. Her beloved husband Eino died ten years ago.  Shirley lived in the same house for sixty years and knew everyone in the neighborhood. The Mannery house was legendary in that end of Seattle because the family was so welcoming. Didn’t matter who you were; Mannerys would take you in if you wanted to be taken in, and leave you alone if you didn’t, but not before Shirley graced you with a homemade Christmas ornament.

I was a Johnny-come-lately to the Mannery fold, adopted by default since I had married one of their daughter’s best friends. In time our son became an adopted grandchild, too. He has vivid memories of their playfulness and love.   When Shirley died, the family elegantly decided to wait until the family and all her “adopted” children could be present for a memorial service. It was held May 21st, after Lent and Easter, in the house on the corner in Fremont.  The family has no immediate plans to sell the house, because it is full of Shirley and Eino’s memorabilia, but that’s another story.

The new neighbors came to the service and brought food. In her gentle but persistent way, Shirley had befriended new people who moved in as the neighborhood turned over. She was delighted that children’s laughter could be heard again. The professional women across the street baked pies or made supper or visited over coffee; they were young enough to be her grandchildren but Shirley had reached out to them and they returned that love.

People here who knew we were going to Seattle for this event asked me to characterize the Mannerys. I replied that their lives revolved around family and fun. I meant to identify their basic stance in life. They were full of good humor and they approached life with a twinkle in their eye. Emphasis on family could mean that they were insular, but I’ve already corrected that notion. Their son-in-law called them “professional neighbors” in a world where neighborliness has diminished significantly.

Shirley called me her “theological advisor.” Deeply Christian in an open-ended way, she would muse about the agonies that people in other places were suffering, and how this all fit together with the emphasis on family and fun – to use my words. She always looked for the grace notes, where the redemption might be found in the midst of pain. She was clear that her calling in life was to be the best possible Shirley she could be, and to reach out to others with what love she had. World events may stagger the imagination and send your mind reeling, but at home you had to stay the course. You had to love the children and their parents. You had to stay open to new people and their ways.

When we were reflecting after the memorial, Shirley’s daughter said that Shirley’s long life should be attributed to her ability to embrace new people and fresh ideas.  She was still surrounded by friends and ideas, but now they ranged from laptop toddlers to laptop computers.

As I sat in the Seattle airport waiting to fly home I overheard a man, who was younger than I, telling another passenger that he thought life had passed him by. He didn’t want to stay up with recent technology or events. I couldn’t help but think that Shirley’s daughter nailed it. She never wore out because she saw God at every turn of events, in every grandchild, and in fresh perspectives on life.

posted 03 June 2011