I’ve had a good life, and was born to and among people I’ve admired and loved. – Wendell Berry
I happened upon this gravestone at a church yard in Tennessee recently. I was there to pay my respects to a beloved uncle who had passed just a few weeks prior.
Wandering through graveyards is much like roaming through libraries. I consider gravestones to be like the binders of books – each one represents a story. Is it a tragedy? A comedy? What truths might I glean from knowing their story? Where did they travel to? Whom did they meet? What hardships did they face? What giants did they slay? What made them laugh? What broke them?
In these hills of Tennessee calling someone “a simple man” might infer that that person was of limited mental abilities. Simple-minded. Slow-witted. I don’t know if that was the reason for this gravestone. Possibly. But is also possible that the reason for the gravestone was intentional. Perhaps a man of high intellect had purposely chosen this title to tell his story.
I could see Wendell Berry choosing such a gravestone: “Better than any argument is to rise at dawn and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup.”
Anyone who has ever plucked a raspberry from the vine at daybreak and plopped it into one’s mouth knows the simple wisdom of Wendell Berry’s urging.
The best argument for the existence of a Creator is the way in which we live our lives. Does our life testify to God’s goodness? Does it testify to Grace? Does it testify to kindness? Does it testify to redemption? Does it testify to a just life? One of mercy?
Or does our life testify to treating others as less than? Does our life testify to our fear that we are not enough, and therefore others must be pushed down? Stomped on? Disregarded? Marginalized?
No amount of wealth amassed can make a person worthy. Worthiness comes from the depths within us. It is what happens when like the Velveteen Rabbit we come to understand how well we have been loved. And how well we have loved others.
A person who fails to understand they are worthy is a person who does not know what it means to be loved completely, utterly, without reservation. That person will always be striving, always arguing, always making a case for their worth. That person is exhausting to be around. No amount of reassurances will ever convince that person that they matter.
Knowing one’s own worthiness happens when we acknowledge the holiness in others.
It is not enough to say “You matter”. We must live out “You matter”. A husband who does not live out “You matter” will cease to matter to his family. A woman who does not live out “You matter” will never rightly know her own worth. A child who does not grow up in a home where”You matter” will suffer an abuse that will haunt them throughout their lives. A country that fails to live out “You matter” will eventually cease to matter to the world.
What’s obvious from Simple Man’s gravestone is that he mattered.
He was beloved.
He was deemed worthy.
Of all the ornate gravestones in that church yard, his told the most powerful story.
Simple does not mean less than.
Choosing to lead a simple life, to die a simple person, is an act of intention. A purposeful path.
It was as if even from his eternal rest, Simple Man was shouting to all the others in the graveyard: You matter. Not for what you achieved or what wealth you did or did not amass. Those things don’t matter. But you? You have been found worthy. And I am just grateful to be here among all you fine, fine people.
Karen Spears Zacharias is the author of Mother of Rain (Mercer University Press).