Know your neighbors, and cherish them

Published 5:22 pm Tuesday, May 9, 2017

After retiring to Florida, my parents bought a rather large boat for fishing and named it the “Why Knot”.   Later, when they wanted to cruise more and fish less, they bought an even larger boat and named it the “Why Knot II”.    Their smaller runabout was called the “So What?”

In a world full of incessant chatter and endless information, the phrase “Why Not?” always breaks through the clutter and somehow alerts my brain to pay attention.    That was the case this past Wednesday afternoon when the Rev. Dr. Raymond Guterman uttered those words as he began the funeral service for Miriam Hall Stewart of Donalsonville, our neighbor for the past 35 years.

Actually, Raymond’s question was referring to Miriam’s question to herself and those around her during times of need.   When a problem arose and was looking for an answer, Miriam might ask the question “Why not me?”  In answering that call repeatedly over the years, Miriam and her husband, Dr. Charles Stewart quietly provided the answers to many needs, problems and prayers through their generosity and support.

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Miriam was an unusual woman.  She was always direct and honest, never one to sugar coat a situation.    Many years ago, I had the same very serious illness that had almost killed her following the birth of her fourth child.   

She was the only person that honestly told me what to expect in the coming months.   During that time, I would repeatedly draw on her own experience knowing that if she could do it, so could I. 

She was very intelligent, reading everything in sight.   Miriam was a longtime supporter of the Public Library and was always up to date on the latest good reads.   She possessed a quick wit, and verbally jousting with her was something I always enjoyed.   

Along with her great mind, she had an equally great heart.   She raised a family of four children, Chip, Ellen, Jenny and Mimi and was blessed with 12 grandchildren.   She would quickly share any news of her family, something I understand more now that I have my own perfect grandchildren. 

For decades you might not have received a birthday card from anyone else, but you would receive one from Miriam.

She loved the First Presbyterian Church and was a soprano in the choir for many years.  Music was an important of worship to her and she had definite opinions about how it should best be done.  However, Miriam never insisted on her way, at least not at church.   She would say her peace and if things moved in another direction, she would move on. 

Miriam Stewart and her family have been generous benefactors to this community.   Some things funded by the Stewarts might be known to the community, but many are not.   I remember a conversation I had with her decades ago about recognizing gifts to the church.   “If it isn’t given to the Glory of God, then it isn’t a gift”, she said.   I never forgot that.

Mother Teresa once said, “I want you to be concerned about your next door neighbor.  Do you know your next door neighbor?”  Mary Lou and I have been lucky to have had some great neighbors during our 35 years on 6th Street.   

Miriam was always concerned about us and her concern for her neighbors extended far beyond those who happened to live next door.

Miriam Stewart quietly led by example, both in the way she raised her children and in the way she led in her church.   She was blessed and used those blessings to help others.   

She asked nothing in return and wanted no recognition.   

“Why not me?”  Miriam would ask herself.   

In repeatedly answering her own question in such a positive way during her life, she touched the lives of many and left this world a better place for generations to come.