|This page is dedicated to the
memory of Joseph Miller (Bucky). Bucky, through his artwork,
has kept the memory of the village of Shaw alive.
You can see the paintings he has created on this website; churches, houses, businesses, and other landmarks familiar to those who lived in Shaw.
Two weeks ago, I saw Buck for the last time alive in his old body. I was surprised and a little amused when I noted that it took three men to keep a dying man put. I now note that all the shackles in the world and all the men in the world cannot keep the soul from escaping whenever it hears the “Warden of the Universe” speak the words, “YOU ARE FREE”.
Bucky and I had a good visit. He laughed several times; told a joke or two, and he spoke of taking leave of his body. When I suggested that he knew the Bible better than I did, he immediately began to recite the 23rd Psalm and continued to recite until he had completed the whole psalm.
The gentleman in the room also joined in the conversation and helped me understand what Buck was saying when his voice would tail off to a quiet whisper. The officials gave me about an hour and then it was time for me to go. I had a short prayer and then offered the priestly blessing.
I also rehearsed to Bucky the occasion of my dad singing on the radio and I actually sang one song to Bucky which I had learned from my dad; “I won’t have to cross Jordan alone”.
At some point in our conversation. I reminded Buck of the West Virginia motto: "Mountaineers are always free".
I emphasized the "always" part of that motto. The words of the West Virginia Motto which I shared with Bucky is the hook on which I want to hang the rest of my thoughts here today:
Let me digress a moment to clarify this matter of being a mountaineer; not all West Virginian’s are mountaineers. That may sound strange. West Virginians live in the mountains; they got to be mountaineers, right? Not necessarily! According to the definition, a mountaineer is one who climbs mountains. A mountaineer doesn’t necessarily live in the mountains, but a mountaineer climbs mountains.
And listen to this: a mountaineer does not just climb one mountain. He or she climbs many mountains. In fact, a mountaineer makes climbing mountains, his profession. A mountaineer climbs one mountain and then another throughout his or her life.
When I think of a mountaineer, I think of Sir Edmund Hillary. He was the first man to reach the highest peak in the world, Mt. Everest. Do you know he only spent 15 minutes there. One reason is that he ran out of air. The bottom line is that he had other mountains to climb.
When I think of a mountaineer, I think of Jesus. In the story we read he climbed a mountain with Peter, James, and John. Peter wanted to settle there on that particular mountain but Jesus had to correct him. As a true mountaineer, Jesus was ready to come down from the mountain where he was transfigured so he could climb other mountains.
Of course the most important mountains for a mountaineer to climb are not necessarily the literal ones. The most important mountains to climb are the figurative mountains; the ones we face everyday whether we are in West Virginia, or Virginia Beach, the hospital, or Hagerstown, Maryland. If we have the grit to climb those kinds of mountains we are truly mountaineers.
I submit that this is Bucky’s legacy to us. He is a true mountaineer. He didn’t settle on one mountain; like Sir Edmund Hillary and other mountaineers, he climbed one mountain and then another. One of the downsides of climbing mountains is the valley we face between mountains. We might have to cross a muddy stream in the valley. Or, we might have to wrestle a wild animal.
It is no secret that one figurative beast that Bucky had to fight was the beast within his own self which was stirred from its sleep by what I shall call the A demon. That is a demon which my own dad had to fight; and, but for the grace of God that would be one of my own demons.
In Bucky’s case this beast clawed him pretty bad, not to mention the wounds received by those who were nearby when the fight broke out. Like all human travelers, mountaineers can be vicious. They can hurt and be hurt. It is not my intent to hide this side of the mountaineer. Having said that, there is also the noble side too. The demons which plague us notwithstanding, we mountaineers keep climbing.
Those of you gathered here probably know of other metaphorical mountains which Bucky climbed of which I am unaware. Bucky told me of his loss of hearing while serving in Korea. And of course, we all know about his long stay in Hagerstown. I personally know about this last climb over the mountain of physical suffering as a result of cancer. But whatever mountain Bucky engaged, he was not a quitter.
Why do mountaineers keep climbing mountains? Maybe for the same reasons dogs can lap their butts; because they can. Mountaineers, like Bucky, keep climbing mountains because they can; and they can because they have the freedom to do it. Freedom is a gift from God which mountaineers value and a gift which no one can take away. Mountaineers are always free no matter where they are. That was the case with Bucky.
True, for a large part of Bucky’s life, his physical freedom was limited; but he remained free in spirit. At Hagerstown he was free to use the gifts God gave him; including the gift of drawing. With this gift he blessed me and the town of Shaw. He also blessed many of his family members. Carolyn showed me some of the art work on letters and birthday cards which Bucky sent her and Buddy. I was amazed at the detail. More importantly I was amazed and awed at the obvious love conveyed to his family members through these messages in picture form. As I think about how Bucky shared his love through art, I am reminded that another mountaineer artist did the same. I refer to Jesus. His greatest message is not his words but the picture he painted when he went to Mount Calvary.
Speaking of Mount Calvary, it is important to note that it was at Hagerstown that Bucky climbed this very important Mount Calvary. There he knelt beneath the cross where the precious blood of Jesus washed him from all his sins; the little ones and the big one.
In an ironic sense, Hagerstown, Maryland was Bucky’s saving grace. At Hagerstown the beast within was quiet. The attractions of this world were not around to arouse him. At Hagerstown, separated from the cacophony of worldly noise, Bucky finally heard the voice of Jesus and submitted. Then, under the benefit of his new found freedom, the true man came out; loving his old friends, like me, and the members of his family; loving them in ways he never dreamt of before. Though in some ways these were agonizing years for Bucky and his family, God actually worked good out of it.
Last Saturday, the mountaineer ran out of air and had to climb down the mountain of life. Three days later he is on another mission; another mountain. Some may think it is way up there somewhere in outer space. I don’t think so. I think he is right here. The true Bucky is invisible and his voice is silent. But we can still experience him through his art work. And, I might add the artwork of his children and grandchildren; some of which is displayed in the casket.
His silent message bounces across the network of our memory bank. I am getting his message; and I hope all of you present are getting it as well. What is the message? It is this: “Hagerstown didn’t take my freedom away! Please here that message. Please follow at least that part of Bucky’s example.
I don’t know what your Hagerstown might be, but we all do have our Hagerstowns. Bucky would want us to be courageous as he was. He would not want us to allow our Hagerstown to take away our freedom. He would challenge all of us to be true mountaineers; to use the freedom we were born with; to use it creatively as he did. He would want us to not get too settled in our comfort zones. He would want us to keep climbing. And with all of our climbing, Bucky would not want us to forget to climb Mount Calvary. And now here is some more music which inspired Bucky.
Vernon G. Murray (Tim)