I had wanted to write an article about my lovely late wife Fiona on the 25th of each month; the monthly anniversary of her passing. But I have today broken that pattern, because today would have been Fiona’s 53rd birthday – and I wanted to post another tribute as to what an incredible lady she was.
As I wrote in that first article, Fiona was a truly amazing lady. I know it’s customary to depict the departed in glowing terms, but Fiona really was a very special lady indeed. Everyone whose life was touched by her was affected positively in a life-changing way. Whether she was simply affirming a child rejected by her peers in the playground, or ministering encouragement to broken adults just by taking the time to listen with gentleness, or using her wonderful gift of hospitality to entertain a house full of people, Fiona enriched the lives of everyone she met. Her wisdom was deep and her compassion immense.
I have a book by C. S. Lewis (well, all right, I admit it: I have many books by him…) called ‘The Great Divorce‘ – it’s about heaven and hell, not about an enjoyable marriage breakdown! – and in it, there is a beautiful passage about a lady in heaven who, in her earthly life, had touched so many lives in a similar way to how Fiona did. I read it to her once, a couple of years ago, and explained how the character in the book reminded me of her, but with characteristic modesty she said, ‘Och, nooo, ah’m not like that’, in her lovely lilting Scottish accent. But she was. She didn’t even realise it; she was just being herself.
Now, the lady in the book was one ‘…Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green’. She was someone who was not famous in the worldly sense, and she reminded me of Fiona in that way too: modest and not famous, but making a huge difference in people’s lives just because of who she was.
Let me quote the passage from the book for you, then, and it might just give you a bit more of a picture of the person Fiona was. The scene is in Heaven, with the storyteller talking to his guide, the 19th-century Scottish writer George MacDonald:
All down one long aisle of the forest the under-sides of the leafy branches had begun to tremble with dancing light; and on earth I knew nothing so likely to produce this effect as the reflected lights cast upward by moving water. A few moments later I realised my mistake. Some kind of procession was approaching us, and the light came from the persons who composed it.
First came bright Spirits, not the Spirits of men, who danced and scattered flowers – soundlessly falling, lightly drifting flowers, though by the standards of the ghost-world each petal would have weighed a hundredweight and their fall would have been like the crashing of boulders. Then, on the left and right, at each side of the forest avenue, came youthful shapes, boys upon one hand, and girls upon the other. If I could remember their singing and write down the notes, no man who read that score would ever grow sick or old. Between them went musicians: and after these a lady in whose honour all this was being done.
I cannot now remember whether she was naked or clothed. If she were naked, then it must have been the almost visible penumbra of her courtesy and joy which produces in my memory the illusion of a great and shining train that followed her across the happy grass. If she were clothed then the illusion of nakedness is doubtless due to the clarity with which her inmost spirit shone through the clothes. For clothes in that country are not a disguise: the spiritual body lives along each thread and turns them into living organs. A robe or crown is there as much as one of the wearer’s features as a lip or an eye.
But I have forgotten. And only partly do I remember the unbearable beauty of her face.
‘Is it…it it?’ I whispered to my guide [George MacDonald]
‘Not at all’, said he. ‘It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.’
‘She seems to be…well, a person of particular importance?’
‘Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on earth are two quite different things’
‘And who are these gigantic people…look! They’re like emeralds…who are dancing and throwing flowers before her?’
‘Haven’t ye read your Milton? A thousand liveried angels lackey her.’
‘And who are all these young men and women on each side?’
‘They are her sons and daughters.’
‘She must have had a very large family, Sir.’
‘Every young man or boy that met her became her son – even if it was only the boy that brought the meat to her back door. Every girl that she met was her daughter.’
‘Isn’t that a bit hard on their own parents?’
‘No. There are those that steal other people’s children. But her motherhood was of a different kind. Those on whom it fell went back to their natural parents loving them more. Few men looked on her without becoming, in a certain fashion, her lovers. But it was the kind of love that made them not less true, but truer, to their own wives.’
‘And how…but hullo! What are all these animals? A cat – two cats – dozens of cats. And all those dogs…why, I can’t count them. And the birds. And the horses.’
‘They are her beasts.’
‘Did she keep a sort of zoo? I mean, this is a bit too much.’
‘Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love. In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them.’
I looked at my Teacher in amazement.
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘It is like when you throw a stone into a pool, and the concentric waves spread out further and further. Who knows where it will end? Redeemed humanity is still young, it has hardly come to its full strength. But already there is joy enough in the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe into life.’
Fiona was full of God’s life; full of His joy. This life and joy reached out and touched everyone she met, whether they realised it or not, and changed lives. The part of the Sarah story about the animals was Fiona too; she loved animals of all kinds and, although she wasn’t too keen on spiders and other ‘wee beasties’!, she quite literally would never even hurt a fly. She considered that every living creature deserved to live its life undisturbed. My lovely wife was indeed another ‘Sarah Smith from Golders Green’ – unknown by the world, but making a tremendous impact in ordinary people’s lives due to the power of God that lived within her. I wonder if she too will have a heavenly procession with her retinue, just like Sarah had in the book?
I would think so, wouldn’t you? 🙂