Success in the lives of St. Francis and my mother-in-law

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, July 10, 2013

 “Be as wise as Brother Daisy and Brother Dandelion.”
—St. Francis, according to G. K. Chesterton

Two unplanned events – one joyful, the other sad but with a gold lining – underlie my writing of this week’s column while I’m on the road.

On the road – by car, in rural New York State, some 3,000 km from home, with my son Reg and grandson Thomas, 19! (My wife, Mary Anna, had already arrived here by air three days earlier.)

The two events I’m about to describe resonate well with Mark Anielski’s description of success in last week’s column.

You’ll recall that Mark said: “Success is defined by abandonment to grace and humility – and more importantly, to love, without end and without condition. For like the sun, God's love is unconditional and everlasting, allowing our being and gifts to flourish/flower each day when the sun rises again.”

He grounded that view in something Jesus once said: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin.”

Lilies succeed precisely because they abandon themselves to the glory of the sun, Mark said, just as we can succeed by abandoning ourselves to the Glory of God.

Now about the joyful event I experienced as we drove for three long days from Cochrane to a seniors’ village south of Buffalo.

Thomas read aloud G. K. Chesterton’s amazing biography of St. Francis of Assisi.

And what a treat it was for me to be gripped mile after mile by my grandson’s skillful oral interpretation of the English writer’s skillful account of the famous Italian from nearly a thousand years ago whose very name continues to inspire folks from many backgrounds to pursue a lifestyle of success that flies in the face of materialistic individualism.

I mean, here was a young man from a well-to-do family at the time of the Crusades who forsook fame and fortune to pursue a life of fraternity with the poor and marginalized in his passionate desire to walk the simple path of abandonment to grace, humility and love.

And it’s clear that St. Francis would agree with Mark’s appreciation of Jesus’ reference to lilies, for Chesterton quotes the beloved saint as saying:

“I beseech you, Little Brothers, that you be as wise as Brother Daisy and Brother Dandelion; for never do they lie awake thinking of tomorrow, yet they have gold crowns like kings and emperors or like Charlemagne in all his glory.”

Now, I said there was not only something joyful about this car trip, but something sad, too (with a gold lining).

The sad news was the main reason for the trip: the death of my mother-in-law, Dorothy Baldwin, on the morning of June 29 in Gerry, N.Y. She was 93. A gifted needlepoint artist, she eventually surrendered to the uncaring night of blindness and awaited the hope-filled dawn.

She, too, lived a successful life as defined by the spirit of grace, humility and love. For me personally, her greatest legacy is to be found in her daughter Mary Anna, my wife of exactly 50 years as of the day of Mom’s death.

The fact that she passed into the loving hands of the Lord at that very hour, the dawn of Mary Anna’s and my Golden Anniversary day, was especially meaningful. One of the gospel hymns we grew up with is almost prophetic about that moment.

Here are the words to “Some Bright Golden Morning,” as I remember them:

We shall see His lovely face
Some bright, golden morning
When the clouds have rifted
And the shades have lifted;
Sorrow will turn to joy,
Heartaches gone fore’er;
No more night, only light,
When we see His face.

For Mary Anna’s mother, our Golden Anniversary morning was, indeed, her golden morning for seeing the light of His lovely face.

Thanks, Mom and St. Francis, for your examples of authentic success.


© 2013 Warren Harbeck

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