Since we have just celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, I’m thinking about spirit-filled people, particularly my beloved friend Margaret Wright Jones, known simply as ‘Be’.
In Knoxville, Tennessee, where we both lived, Be was a brilliant, eccentric, creative woman, the life of every party she attended – and she attended many. But when she and her husband divorced and her family’s finances faltered, she took a deep breath, jettisoned the accoutrements of her former life, and moved her two children and her aging mother, lock, stock, and barrel, to the island of Maui.
We kept in touch by mail (with no ‘e’), exchanging multi-page handwritten letters regularly. One year, knowing that I had experienced significant losses myself, Be insisted that I bring my children, who were then 6 and 10, to Maui for the summer.
“You must come,” she wrote. “I have plenty of room, and no one can show you this island the way I can!”
As it turned out, what she wrote was only half-true. She did not have plenty of room; she made plenty of room for us in her simple house above the town of Kahalui, far removed from the postcard images of Maui.
Her promise that no one could show us Maui the way she could turned out to be the understatement of all time. She led us on explorations across the length and breadth of Maui, making each excursion an adventure for the children. We hiked through ‘ghostly’ bamboo forests, ‘discovered’ secret waterfalls, had lavish picnics on green hillsides and remote beaches, ‘places few people ever see.’
One morning we arose in the dark and drove to the top of Maui’s extinct volcano, Haleakala (‘The House of the Rising Sun’) to see the sun rise over the crater at dawn’s early light, and walk a few ‘brave steps’ down into the crater itself. When we stopped on the way home for a breakfast of macadamia nut pancakes at a roadside cafe, Be turned to the sleepy-eyed children and asked, ‘And how was THAT for an adventure?!.’
Both children were enchanted with Be, once they recovered from the initial shock of meeting her, because she had gone completely native. She met us at the airport in a flowing mu-mu and weather-beaten flip-flops, her greying hair piled high and secured with ebony chopsticks. “Aloha, my dears,” she said, draping fragrant plumeria leis around our necks.
Be had grown up with a silver spoon in her mouth. Now all that remained from that life were some silver knives and forks, six silver goblets, and a set of heirloom china. We used all those things at every meal, including the picnics. When I suggested buying paper plates and cups at least for our picnics, she protested, “Why waste the money? Buy some anchovy paste instead!”
At every meal, inside and outside, Be asked us to join hands as she prayed, “Thank you for life. Thank you for love. Amen.” She told us over and over again, “Love is the most powerful force in the universe. Love is the only way to live. Always remember that.”
In countless ways that summer and far beyond, this unconventional woman in a flowered mu-mu showed me what living a Spirit-filled life can be like. No wonder she was the first person I thought about on Pentecost this year!