November 18, 2005
First Presbyterian Church
My granddaddy loved light. He was born and raised on a small farm in Hope Mills, North Carolina and grew up there in the dark days of The Depression. He spent several years of his young life without electricity nor indoor plumbing. My uncle Steve tells me that because of these circumstances granddaddy swore that in his adult life he would never be cold or live without light again.
Subsequently, granddaddy’s house was always set on a steady 80 degrees Fahrenheit. A tally on Wednesday indicates that Granddaddy’s house also contains approximately 165 light switches, 39 lamps, 22 light bulbs in the master bathroom alone, 73 gold framed pictures, and 11 of these pictures have their own individual lights mounted on the gold frames. My granddaddy loved light.
Perhaps one of granddaddy’s first experiences with light was when he met my grandma. He was at a church picnic one Sunday afternoon in the summer of 1949. His church and grandma’s church had joined together in the countryside of Fayetteville for fellowship and good southern eating. In the midst of watermelon seed spitting and the red and white checkered picnic blankets, the crowds parted, angels sung, harps strummed and there stood my grandmother, shinning and beautiful.
Granddaddy was instantly smitten with her and struck by her long flowing blonde hair that made her glow and cast off a brilliant light as the summer sun beat down on her blonde locks. Granddaddy would forever be in love with this radiant light that she gave off and it would be the beginning of 53 years of marriage and the start of another branch of the Cashwell family tree.
Christmas was another time filled with light in my grandfather’s life. Granddaddy insisted every year on having at least one Christmas tree in the house that was decorated in nothing but white lights and red balls. My aunt Faye tells a story of when Granddaddy got a flu shot at the pharmacy in a local Kroger. The pharmacist wanted Granddaddy to wait in the store for an hour to make sure the shot didn’t cause any adverse reactions. Granddaddy turned to Faye and said, “Come on then, let’s go shopping.” Granddaddy got a shopping cart and proceeded to fill it to the brim with every last red Christmas ball that Kroger had for sale.
I remember the glow that this red ball tree would cast on our family every Christmas as we read the narrative of the birth of Jesus before opening our gifts; a tradition that began in his family and which he carried into his own marriage and family. We read of the Shepards: “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone over them.” This passage from the Gospel of Luke captured the spirit of the season as well as the love and care granddaddy gave to those around him throughout his lifetime.
As a Shepard himself, Granddaddy never hesitated to help and protect people in times of need. Friends, family, and strangers all experienced the light of Christ reflected in him and the glory of the Lord shone over all of us whenever we were in his presence. There are countless memories that we all have where we experienced his warm smile, his devotion and love to goodness and righteousness, his commitment to family and friends, his steadfast faith, his really long stories, his pride in hard work and organization, his secret love for a good debate, and the ease in which he forgave, humbly apologized, and loved without ceasing. These were the gifts that he brought to all of our lives.
One of my grandfather’s favorite songs was Eva Cassidy’s version of Fields of Gold. Every time I visited him in the last two years he would usher me and any friends I had with me into his study and ask: “Have you heard this song by Eva Cassidy? It is beautiful!” “Yes granddaddy, I’ve heard it.”
Nevertheless, He would crank up his surround sound speakers in his study to full blast and the house would almost shake as Granddaddy eagerly awaited our reactions to the power of this song. Cassidy sang, “You’ll remember me when the west wind moves among the fields of barley. You can tell the sun in his jealous sky when we walked in fields of gold.” You could see in granddaddy’s face how captivated he was. Granddaddy would often fall asleep in his big armchair to the tunes of Norah Jones and Eva Cassidy dreaming and walking in his own fields of gold.
I would like to share a poem by nature writer Mary Oliver. She is my favorite poet and she writes of the peace that one can find in nature and God’s grace that abounds in all of creation. For my granddaddy who loved being in the outdoors, this poem seemed most fitting. I read it now as an offering to all who were touched by the life, love, and light of my grandfather, Richard Cashwell.
White Owl Flies Into And Out Of The Field by Mary Oliver
out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel,
or a Buddha with wings,
it was beautiful
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings-
five feet apart-and the grabbing
thrust of feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys
of the snow-
and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes,
to lurk there,
like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows-
so I thought:
isn’t darkness after all,
but so much light
wrapping itself around us-
as soft as feathers-
that we are instantly weary
of looking, and looking, and shut our eyes,
not without amazement,
and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river
that is without the least dapple or shadow-
that is nothing but light-scalding, aortal light-
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.
It is now our task to carry forth the love and light of Christ that we knew through the life of Richard Cashwell. Though his physical being is gone, his Spirit shines in and among us, a scalding-aortal light. And we rest with the peace that, as Oliver said, death isn’t darkness, but so much light wrapping itself around us; and Richard Cashwell has been resurrected to a new life with Jesus Christ, the Light of the World.