Remembering Emilie Altemose at a memorial service on October 22, 2022

Remembering Emilie Altemose at the service in her memory Saturday, October 24, 2022

Here is an email I received from Emilie in 2018. I read it this afternoon not because it is extraordinary, but because it was typical of Emilie.

Sent: Mon, Dec 24, 2018 10:32 pm
Subject: happy christmas eve
Hi Pastor Jeff,
I was driving to Codman farm in Lincoln, MA this morning for carrots (we’re making a big soup) and on the car radio: O Magnum Mysterium, by Morten Lauridsen. We remain good friends after his concert and stay at Arcosanti a couple years ago, so I texted Lauridsen. He texted me back, and then later in the day we got this email from the choral director at Pasadena City College, with his chorus singing the same thing! Now here it is for YOU. Play it and angels will come right to your house! (I’m not kidding…)
Happy Christmas Eve
_ Jeff and Em_

Emilie was not conventional. It was as if she was from some other place. Her talent and personality seemed so unusual. She wrote to me about angels in this Christmas email as if she knew them. She did. Angels, in the New Testament, are messengers. Emilie seemed like a messenger of a wider, brighter, more colorful, better place…somewhere…or beyond every somewhere.

She was fierce, opinionated, bright, brilliant even, and eccentric. All these qualities might bring energy and new life into the world. Each of these alone, or together in combination, can make a difference in the lives of other people, and make the world a better place.

Emilie was not only fierce and bright and eccentric. She was graceful, kind, cheerful and eminently friendly. To me these were the greater gifts she brought to this church and to me.

Emilie appeared here for the first time, many years ago, on a weekday, not on a Sunday, asking if she could borrow a green Lutheran Book of Worship, because she wanted to play hymns for the family of a friend who had died.

After that day, she returned, blessing the grounds in front of the church with her attention. During the warm months of the year, Emilie appeared, sometimes out of nowhere, it seemed.

There she was, at all hours and in all weather, with a floppy hat, blue hair, and cool clothes. She looked like she belonged in Cambridge or Back Bay or Paris, not Wayland. There she was: taking care, imagining, tending, blessing.

Emilie was graceful (full-of grace) in the way she spoke and moved. She was cordial and polite in a manner that seemed old-fashioned. When we look out over this garden in years to come, maybe we will remember the gifts of Emilie’s soul that went into the planting and careful tending.

“Dancing with the earth”, she would say. That’s what she was doing out there: “Dancing with the earth”.

Everyone who walked by as she danced with the earth received a smile and a friendly greeting from her. She met people just like she met plants. Each one was, or could become, someone’s treasure. Each one was valuable and rare if you cared enough to find out about them.

When she told me about the plants there were always stories about how she found them, usually as a result of a personal connection she had developed with a grower or an employee at a garden center. Each plant she brought was special. Each one had a local, recent history.

With Emilie, there were always new stories to tell, plant stories and people stories.

The plant stories often included Latin names and genetic, biological, histories. But there were limits to her patience with this kind of discussion. Sometimes I would ask her a question about gardening and plant care (because she was so full of knowledge and experience), and she would say, “You know, I’m not a horticulturalist. I’m an artist.”

Indeed she was. She brought color, form, depth, design, texture, etc., to life. She was a creator. Emilie imagined, envisioned, planned, then tended a garden as a faithful creator.

Talks with Emilie were never dull. She told about her experience in her family business and about her work in the law. She knew about science. She explored health and healing traditions and remedies. Her horizons were wide and deep and extensive. She was in touch with people all around the world and beyond the world.

Emilie was a straight-forward and fearless guide through strange ideas and exotic worlds.

A messenger of the spiritual world, like those angels that she said would come into my house when I played that Lauridsen piece on Christmas Eve (they did, by the way), Emilie’s spirit will not leave the earth. It lives on in other souls like hers:

in artists, musicians and writers,

in animal lovers,

in those who love the earth and dance with it,

in rare messengers of that spiritual world that seems so foreign to most of us, but that very young children know about, and that Jesus told about. He called it the kingdom of God.

May God bless all of us as we remember Emilie with thankful, joyful hearts.

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