Remarks by her Brother, Mike Smathers, at the Memorial Service for Patricia Jean Smathers Konstam

Submitted by rudyarispe on September 6, 2019 - 12:55pm

Remarks delivered by her brother Mike Smathers at the memorial service of Patricia Jean Smathers Konstam, Sept. 6, 2019:

Blessed be the God and Father of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus, by God’s Grace we have been brought to a living hope through God’s great mercy.

Patricia Jean Smathers Konstam, mountain girl, Appalachian girl, farm born and bred, 4-H champion, Salutatorian of her high school class by virtue of the drawing of a straw (she got the short straw, the other girl, with whom she was tied academically, was named Valedictorian), organizer as early as 12th grade, sometimes humorist and raconteur, feminist, women’s lib warrior, advocate and activist for the marginalized, journalist, editor, columnist, supporter and apologist for the State of Israel, professor’s wife, mother, sister, sister-in-law, aunt, friend, she of the snaptrap mind and the ready smile is gone from amongst us.  We mourn her death (and by her order, it is not to be said of her that she “passed away” or “joined the saints of the Lord” or “some such euphemism” – she died, plain and simple), but we must celebrate her life.

We mourn because life is sweet and beautiful, and kindship and friendship of the kind that Pat shared with us and with many of you, is rich and rare, and parting is such bitter sorrow.  We celebrate because of a life lived both well and good.  And because in that life we recognize the victory of  joy over despair, of peace over enmity, of kindness over meanness, of love over hate, of faith over falsehood, of purity over corruption, of forgiveness over vindictiveness, of humility over self-righteousness, of righteousness over sinfulness, and of all the forces of life and light and right over the forces of death and darkness and destruction.

Other than the members of my immediate family, Pat was my best friend and most trusted confidant.  I will miss her. She and I were raised in a Presbyterian manse in the small, remote, isolated open-country Appalachian village of Big Lick, Tennessee.  We were also raised in the house of two Southern radicals who were proponents of racial and labor justice.  They were among the founders of one of the South’s earliest interracial civil rights and social justice organizations composed primarily of Southerners.  Pat and I were both died-in-the-wool liberals, and there were events, issues and people that we could discuss between the two of us that we dared not broach with another human being, except maybe our spouses.

Like myself, she grew up as a child of the farm – a 4-H champion and lover of rural life.  I was born in August 1941.  Pat was in fourth grade that year – in fourth grade because in our one-room school, she was the only third grade child who showed up for the start of school that year.  She was bright and a quick learner, so the teacher simply moved her up to fourth grade rather than bother to teach a grade with only one student.

Anyway, I was born early in the morning of August 4.  Pat woke up scared that morning because her mother was not in the bed where she was supposed to be.  Pat learned quickly where her mother was, but thought to herself, “I don’t want a baby brother.  I want my mother.”  She went on to school that morning, but when her girlfriends asked her what was going on at her house the night before, she replied that “An old hen hatched a bunch of chicks.”  When an older boy asked her what she and her friends were whispering about, she told him “Our old sow had pigs last night.”

Pat soon warmed up to me and became one of my primary caregivers.  Our mother was sick a lot when I was an infant, and Pat was the one who stepped in to help raise me.  She was the first to see me stand, and the one who took me on long walks when I was only nine months old.  I was reminded of her wry and dry sense of humor when she first wrote me about her friendship with her future husband, Aaron.  I was the first in our family to hear about Aaron.  Pat was not sure how our parents would react to the fact that he was Jewish.

I was a sophomore in college when I received the first letter from Pat describing her future husband.  To my chagrin, I have misplaced that letter and forgotten most of its details.  What I do remember reminded me of her description of my birth.  She said of her future husband that he “Walks like a duck.”

Pat first exercised her organizing skills in 12th grade.  She determined, correctly, that only two boys and a few girls and none of her rural classmates (the majority in her class) knew how to do ballroom or social dancing.  She agitated and organized until her senior prom was reconstructed from an event featuring social dancing to one featuring mountain square dancing – which most members of her class knew how to do.  In college Pat became a performer with the Berea (College) Country Dancers who traveled and performed internationally.

Pat had a wild or at least unorthodox streak – sometimes exacerbated by the proclivities of her husband.  It’s a side of Pat which many of you may have never seen. In 1958 she introduced me to Greenwich Village and to the Bohemian or “Beat” generation - to Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Coney Island of the Mind, to Jack Kerouac and his strange travelogue On the Road which I first read at age 17.  She introduced me to the New York subway and took me to the off-Broadway Playhouse Theater and the then new but highly controversial play, “Blue Denim,” about teenage pregnancy and abortion.  She also introduced me to one of her professors and one of my favorite theologians, Robert McAfee Brown, and to George Webber and the East Harlem Protestant Parish, where she was interning.

Pat began her journalism career in 1962 cavorting around the Mideast on a moped following and reporting on Pope Paul II’s visit to Israel and Jordan, the first trip ever by a Pope to those two countries.  Pat was a woman of truth, integrity and passion who worked all her life to promote justice for the marginalized.  In the 1970s she became active in the Women’s Liberation Movement and agitated, marched and lobbied for the Equal Rights Amendment.  She remained a women’s liberationist for the rest of her life.

Pat was a unique and special human being who demonstrated love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  In a letter to the young ethnically mixed, troubled and conflicted churches he had founded in the Roman Provence of Galatia, Paul of Tarsus calls these nine attributes “fruits of the Spirit.”  Pat’s faith was ecumenical and expansive, granting membership in the family of faith to all who were responsive to God’s invitation, regardless of the name under which they worship.  She would have fit in well at Galatia and with Paul of Tarsus, a Jewish convert to the teachings of another rather unusual Jew, Jesus of Nazareth.

Death intrudes on us all.  It stalks our steps, searches out our hiding places, wipes out the myriad ways we try to hide its reality, and forces itself into our lives at the most inopportune times.  Its intrusion into our lives dulls life’s brightness and casts a shadow of heartbreak on our souls.  It intruded into my family’s life twice on July 13, 2019, when Pat and Judy’s best friend died seven hours apart.  But for those of us who live by faith, death assumes a different face.  It is no longer a frightening enemy, robbing us of all we hold dear.  It is merely the door to another room in God’s house.  It is no longer the darkness that empties life of its meaning.  It is rather the gladness of going home.

I want to end by reading for you two prayers that were composed 200 years apart, both for use at the conclusion of a funeral service.  The first was used by our father, Rev. Gene Smathers, in the 1950s.  The second is by William Penn and is from the 1700s.  It has been publicly copied twice without attribution, once by Rossiter W. Raymond in a poem, and more recently by Carly Simon in a song entitled “Life is Eternal.”  It contains my favorite comment about death.

The Gene Smathers’ Prayer:

“O Christ, Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief – you who knows the depth of sorrow and loss, grant us Grace to see our sorrows within the circle of God’s eternal love.  Help us to know, even when we cannot understand, that in all things God works for good with those who love Him; and teach us to do our part.  Help us to realize that the price of human love is the risk of loss. Only through the love of those we have seen may we understand the love of One whom we have not seen.  Grant that through our sorrow we may see more deeply into the hearts of all who suffer; and strengthen our hands to help. Finally, O Lord, open our eyes to behold the reality of the world unseen and eternal, where live the blessed dead within Your love and care.  These things we ask in the name of Jesus Christ, who is the resurrection and the life.  Amen.”

The William Penn Prayer:

 “We seem to give them back to Thee, O God, who gavest them to us. Yet, as thou didst not lose them in giving, so do we not lose them by their return. Not as the world giveth, givest Thou, O Lover of Souls. What Thou givest, Thou takest not away. For what is Thine is ours also if we are Thine. And life is eternal, and love is immortal, and death is only an horizon, and an horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight. Lift us up, strong Son of God, that we may see further; cleanse our eyes that we may know ourselves to be nearer to our loved ones who art with Thee. And while Thou dost prepare a place for us, prepare us also for that happy place, that where Thou art we may be also for evermore.”