We were blessed to witness a powerful, unrelenting life
Yesterday, I went with Dr. Calloway to pay our last respect to Otha Zellner Murphy and be what comfort we could to his mother who had lost him on Easter morning and was having to bury another son in the cruelest fate in life, burying a child. It’s not supposed to be that way; it’s not supposed to happen. They are supposed to bury us, not the other way around.
And with his mother facing a pandemic to walk beside him to his grave.
Of course, they weren’t alone.
Hundreds and hundreds of people had made themselves known one way or the other to show and speak their grief.
Mine was that not long ago, Otha had given me a cup because I had been her guest when he honored Dr. Calloway on a day he had prepared to honor her and others for the children — because, with him, it was always for the children. It’s become my most used cup, not that I intended it, but because I like the colors and the unusual way it angles, and seems to hold my tea just right. He made me part of honoring her.
The gym was overflowing with jubilant children in all the arts and dancing; in gesture and inflection; in performance and even well-rehearsed restraint (when it was called for). Nothing was unplanned. You could see even in his vigor that he’d been up all night the night before. He looked smashing in his suit.
And, of course, his mom was there. She kept her seat, though you could clearly tell she had been part of all the planning. This was her son’s day — and morning. She wouldn’t miss it for the world.
Everybody knows her, and most have known her for a long time. Everything about her is iconic, from the glances, and the pauses, and the poundings of the gavel at school board meetings to her unyielding insistence that “Braves” were the best people on the earth and dwelt on “the Reservation.”
She passed that strong conviction on to Otha and his brothers. And they all believed it too.
They were all forces on the “Reservation.” And so was Otha, too.
But it was his patent love of children, especially those with special needs, he loved most. And they loved him.
So all we could do was be — and bear — witness to an unrelenting life.
He and I had often met up in Dr. Calloway’s cab and his company was easy. His talk was always easy. And I hadn’t known that he was sick. I’ll always carry that image of him bounding in or out the car and assuring me he’d remember to tell his mother I said “hey.”
For some reason, he makes me think of Dickinson:
This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me,
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty.
Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me.
Yolande Robbins is a community columnist for The Vicksburg Post.
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