You Matter

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I had one of those life experiences yesterday that is not pleasant but is not altogether unpleasant at the same time. I went back to my hometown and said goodbye to a woman who used to keep me in her home when I was just a little kid.

Ms. G. A. Hayes, otherwise known as Ethel, died on Monday at age 106. She would have been 107 if she had lived to see November. I learned one thing about Ms. Hayes yesterday that I don’t think I ever knew before. She had a twin who died at around one or two years of age all those years ago. Imagine that. One twin dying so very young in the very early twentieth century, and one living well into the next century.

We told stories yesterday, tales about Ms. Hayes as well as stories about ourselves and how she had fit into our lives. We all remembered the things that stood out with her. Her love of children, her rock solid faith and church life and her commitment to helping others. Oh, yes and that one defining characteristic that everyone was reminded of as soon as they set foot in her little mill village house on First Street in Shannon, Georgia. One glance to the right at the television told you that she was the biggest Atlanta Braves baseball fan who ever lived. Dale Murphy was her man. She also doted on Tom Glavine. She never cared much for Greg Maddux. If some of the baseball players had names she could not pronounce, she made up her own.

One minister, then another, then two young men whose family she had been intimately involved with for years all told of her courage, her resilience, and her compassion for others. They laughed about her stock phrases, remembered her proffered pieces of cake, recalled the radio sitting on her lap playing at full volume, and marveled at how she kept taking care of herself and living alone for many years after other mere mortals would have been packed off to the nursing home and called it a life.

It is not lost on me that Ms. Hayes started caring for me and had her first influence on my life when she was the age I am right now. She had already lived many decades, but she was constantly reinventing herself.

I often write about changes in mood, suicidal ideation and giving up, hopelessness, drug and alcohol use and misery in these blog posts. Just like other media and other writers, it is easy sometimes to write about the sensational, the awful, the shocking and the negative. It gets attention. It hits hard and shocks people, if for just a moment.

It is much harder to write about the quiet, day-to-day heroism and influence of someone like Ms. Ethel Hayes. Someone who taught generations of young girls in the GA program in the Baptist church. Someone who would sometimes have up to eight or nine kids at a time in her little house, paying attention to them, feeding them and loving them through their young lives, shaping them to be the adults of today. It is also easy to forget the influence these kinds of people have on each one of us as we grow and mature. We may not know, consciously, how much we glean from them, but it is a tremendous amount. It has staying power. It is woven into the fabric of our young lives, and it is the bedrock of who we are.

You may get up today and wonder how you’re going to impact the world. You may wonder if anyone will hear anything you say or think any of your opinions matter. You may sometimes wonder if you ever make an impression on anybody else at all.

You matter.

Just like my friend Ethel Hayes mattered to so many of us.

Don’t wait until one hundred and six years have gone by to find out whether or not you touched someone else’s life.

Go out every day and make sure that you do.

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13 thoughts on “You Matter

  1. Again, the reason that I find myself 20 years into a nursing career dedicated to the eldery. If only everyone took a few extra minutes to hear the wisdom and the life stories of the beautiful people….they have so much to share, but even they get tired of trying, as no one seems to have the time to realize that they DO have a life story, and many times, it’s an AMAZING one! Oh, and Dale Murphy WAS the man!!!! :-)

  2. A wonderful tribute! I have to remember now to tell those around me how much they make a difference. I am a nurse in a children’s psychiatric program. I wonder if I am thought of among the many other caregivers in these children’s lives. We hear from some. Some have grown and gone to college while a couple are serving life in prison for murder. Not too long ago I answered the phone and it was a former resident wondering if “Mr. Rob” still worked there, he did. I asked who he was and his number so I could pass it on. I said “I remember you! I’m Ms. Betsy. Nearly 20 years had passed and he said “I remember you, you gave me an oatmeal bath when I had the chicken pox”. You just never know :)

  3. Greg,

    I have had the thought in my mind lately, “What will your legacy be when you’re gone, Maria?” What will people remember? WILL they even remember? Well, my friend, Ms. Hayes has a legacy and a half! She touched so many & gave so much of herself to so many. And she did so selflessly, with great love, & with a deep caring & compassion that God placed upon her. Some may say she blessed so many in her 106 years. I tend to think Ms. Hayes would say SHE was the one being blessed. And you know, she would be right.

    I’m glad you were able to come home to say goodbye. I know it meant a lot to you.

    M

  4. Maria summed it up very well. I went to the First Baptist Church with her from when I was 7 until I was 17. She was a very dear person. Her sweet husband was always so quiet and she was the talker. After she retired from the mill, she kept so many children in her home. She was always so active. What a great example to follow!!

  5. Hi Greg, I assume you are the son of Bobby and Hilda. I am sure you do not remember me. I was one of the Oxford’s who were also members at Shannon First Baptist. I remember you as a young boy and have actually wondered over the years where you and your family were now. Mrs. Hayes was a special person to many over the years as you stated. I was also one of those young GA’s she taught for so many years. Scripture was one thing she was sure her girls were going to memorize, and to this day I still remember. One thing I also remember about Mr. and Mrs. Hayes was it didn’t matter if you did not have a way to get to GA’s, that was not a good excuse, they would come and pick you up.

  6. Linda

    Yes, that’s me! So nice to hear from you. They were good people. I’ll never forget Ms. Hayes and what she did for us and taught us.

    Hope you are doing well.

    Greg

  7. Doc- Though I may well be accused of “guilding the lilly,” “screwing the pooch,” or performing an oral examination on the proverbial gift horse (and this posting is certainly that), I can’t help wondering if anyone has ever studied the relationship, if any, between longevity and enthusiasm for professional baseball. In many ways, your Mrs. Hayes reminds me of my own grandmother, Helen Burnside, RN., who lived to 100 and was a die-hard Yankees fan all the way. She attended one home game a year well into her 80s, and took Cousin Mike and I to several, when we were kids–not an easy task as we all lived 150 miles away, near Wilkes-Barre, PA. By sheer chance, we were in the stands the day Roger Maris broke the HR record. But I digress. Are you aware of any connection? Just curious…

  8. Rob

    No, not aware of any specific connection.

    I do know that Ms. Hayes lived out her baseball as surely as she watched it.

    She could hit it out of the park any time she set her mind to it.

    She could field any problem life threw at her, cleanly and without breaking stride.

    Her double play of compassion and caring were beautiful to see, and much harder to execute than they appeared.

    Greg

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