Bridging The Gap Between Here and Eternity

By Fred Smith

(Editorial note: This was written at the time of his dear friend Jim Smith's death. Fred Smith was talking to the Elliott Sunday School class of Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Texas)

 Yesterday afternoon Jim asked me to come over because he wanted to tell me goodbye. We sat and held hands, laughed, prayed, talked, and just kept quiet together. Two or three times he said, "This is a blessed time." It was a time when we blessed each other, recalling the many years of friendship and experiences that we had shared. He spoke of his surprise at not having received remission from the disease because he had firmly believed it would happen. But then in true Christian style he said, "It's all right. Let God's will be done." There was no despair, only peace and assurance.

I asked him what it would be like to die without the Lord. "Sheer terror" was his answer.

He told me that there were two things that he had in his mind. One was his family and how he deeply appreciated the member of the class who paid off the mortgage on the home. What a wonderful way to use wealth. That man blessed Jim's family and also received the blessing of giving. After I left the room I sat with the family and they could see that I had been crying, and so they gathered around, held my hand and put their arms around me to support me. We stood in support of each other.

The other thing that was on his mind was this class. This class was Jim's finest work, the thing that was closest to his heart. In all the years that we have talked about the class, I have never once heard him call it "my class" - it was always "the class." He knew he didn't own it; it owned him. The class wasn't a part of his ego, but part of his love. The class is a living memorial to Jim. Hart, the sociologist, defining great men said that the true test of greatness is how strong is their idea, how far it continues and how much it influences others after their death. Jim will never completely die so long as we continue in what he has taught us. When my mentor, Maxey Jarman, died people asked me how I felt and I said, "Maxey will never be dead as long as I'm alive because I am carrying out the things he taught me."

Once, sitting in the lobby of the Gibson hotel in Cincinnati, I overheard two writers, one younger and one older, talking to each other. The younger woman asked the older, "If you had your life to live over, what would you do?" The older woman without hesitation replied, "If I had my life to live over I'd find a cause big enough to give myself to." Jim had no regrets in having given himself to this class.

Sometimes our greatness is in the life we pass to others. In the prologue to Man and Superman by George Bernard Shaw he has the line, "Some of us are only the conduit that carries life to the appliances which come along every now and again in life." But the conduit is as important as the appliance.

As I talked to Jim I realized that he was submitting to the Spirit, not giving up. The act of submission is an act of the will. It is victory, not defeat.