Doris Taylor. My grandma. I picture her in my mind's eye. Six feet tall and married to a man who was 5-foot-1.
The rhythmic click of her knitting needles or the careful rub of the pumice stone on her calluses. Sat in the chair that was always hers nearest to the coal fire. An ordinary woman, a cleaner, with a deep and quiet faith in Our Lord. Warbling “Jesus loves me this I know” at church or bent over as she mopped the floor. Quietly spoken and stern. She loved her grandchildren more than she had words to say.
She grew up in and lived her entire life in Lancashire in the north of England. It was at the end of its time as the largest cotton-weaving area in the world.
She barely spoke of the past except the goose that flew in the cotton mill and had to be chased out by the mill girls. The German bomber that flew so low over the back yard, as she rocked my uncle in the pram, that she could see the face of the pilot.
She saw Gandhi once — when he visited Lancashire mill towns appealing to the mill workers and mill owners to let raw Indian cotton be finished in India. He was right, of course. Her thoughts — ordinary, “He looked like a tiny man in a sheet.”
It's all gone now. Grandma. The mills. Ordinary life moves on.
Only as an adult did I begin to realize what a burden she was carrying. Like many, many other ordinary people, she struggled all her life with deep depressions. She destroyed the photos of her own wedding but was married to my grandfather for almost 40 years. Things were often hard, and sometimes the darkness carried her to extremely bleak territory.
Such illness touches the lives of many ordinary people, often leaving those who suffer with an unbearable sense of isolation. I have no great expertise beyond that of one who has loved those who suffer.
As a child, I couldn't cure or even understand my grandmother's darkness. Though, if she were now here, I would accompany her to those who can help, even if only to lighten the load.
But what I did know and still know is that there is a much deeper story than a woman who was merely an illness. A lovable, ornery, ordinary lady, who remembered the lost world of clog-wearing mill workers, gave her heart to her grandchildren and was loved by them in return.
Deepest of all, the lady who hummed, “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” mysteriously giving thanks even in the darkness, who was beloved in the sight of the God, who himself entered into the darkness on the cross and shoulders our heavy load. For Jesus, too, knows the dark and knows that it doesn't speak the final word. On his last night, he, too, gave thanks, took bread and said, “This is my body given for you.”
When I gather with my family this Thanksgiving, I will say give heartfelt thanks for this great freedom-loving land and the wonderfully generous and kind people of Montana. I will also say a quiet prayer of thanks for Doris Taylor. May she rest in peace and rise in glory.
Have a blessed Thanksgiving.
The Rev. Jacob Knee is rector at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Billings.
The Faith & Values column appears regularly in the Saturday Life section of The Billings Gazette.
Pastors, ethicists, educators or others who would like to write a column about faith, ethics or values for the section, should contact: Susan Olp; Billings Gazette; 401 N. Broadway; Billings, MT 59101. Or call her at 657-1281; fax to her attention at 657-1208; or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.