My mother died when she was ninety years old. Yesterday my daughter came accross a copy of the bulletin for her grandmother’s memorial service. We remember her as a simple Mennonite woman with only an eighth grade education. She married my father with the understanding that he could be away from home for half of their time while he was doing his work as a minister of the Gospel, evangelist, and Bible teacher. He was none of these things when she married him, but they both recognized his call to serve. In the prime of her life she was responsible for their two sons and small farm while her husband was away. The following poem was found in the bottom of Mother’s personal drawer and was printed in the memorial bulletin with the title: What Use am I?
“What use am I?” the root asked me.
“I’m in the ground where none can see?”
“But you support that sturdy tree
And give a home to bird and bee.”
“What use am I” the lily said.
“Alive today, tomorrow dead.”
“But you tell that God is near,
That he’ll send comfort, love, and cheer.”
“What use am I” the patient said,
“When I must lie so still in bed?”
“But you have time to pray each hour,
For other’s strength and other’s power.”
“What use am I? What use am I?”
“Oh never let that be your cry,
If you’re a drop, if you’re a sea,
Well then be that, I say” but BE!”
This simple poem caught the attention of my mother. She must have asked of what use was a woman who was only a wife, mother, and small farm manager. Yet she made it possible for her husband to be useful and well known. The poem must have given strength to my mother for it reveals that the author found a use for buried roots, for lilies that bloom for only a day, for a weak person lying immobile in bed. The author determined to be who she was no matter how small or inconsequential. The need to know one’s usefulness appears to be a universal need regardless of race, gender, place of birth, age or status.
I believe that my mother found comfort in the last lines of this poem. My heart goes out to returning soldiers, gay youth and others who seeing no reason for being, commit suicide.
My father solicited students and money for Eastern Mennonite School (University). He took my mother along on one of those trips. I still have a rock she picked up on the shore of Lake Erie and I still have the tattered Fosters Bible Story Book from which she began to nurture me in the faith.