Her Voice Was Ever Soft, Gentle, and Low

“In the Resurrection, I shall again hear her voice.”

by Noel Smith

MATTIE LINDA SMITH

June 10, 1907 – May 31, 1953

Editor’s Note – Mattie Smith was the first wife of Noel Smith, the Tribune’s founder and first editor. The original editorial, of which this is an excerpt, was written just a few days after her death and first appeared in the June 12, 1953, edition of the Baptist Bible Tribune.

It was two months ago. Despite five major operations in as many years, the old attacks had recurred. But maybe another could be performed which would give her another year or two. To live a little while longer would be reasonable compensation for the suffering involved in another operation. She was willing. The world was getting green and fragrant again, and as dawn fingered the venetian blinds of her gracious and pleasant bedroom, the birds were singing in the great trees outside, and the squirrels were at play. And summer would come again into the Ozarks, and then she would see another glorious autumn. There was much worth living for  —  if another could be performed.

She was in a sober, but hopeful, mood when we got into the car to go to one of the seven best surgeons in the country. He was long and patient and thorough with his examination. X-rays were made, and every detail of the record was checked.  He would now give her his decision. He was sitting behind his large desk. She was standing in front of him “I – I can’t operate.”

“Then, doctor, does this mean that I haven’t long to live?”

Her voice was so clear and calm that the doctor hesitated. “I – I don’t wish to appear so blunt the first time you come to see me; we can make you quite comfortable I think …”

“But, doctor, do I understand that nothing more can be done?”

“I am afraid so. I don’t think there is anything else we can do?”

“How long would you say I have to live?”

“I am afraid it is not long.”

One lone tear coursed down her cheek.

The few blocks back home from the doctor’s office was one of the longest and loneliest rides we ever experienced. The only similar loneliness I could remember was when I, as a small boy, used to sit on the steps of my plain Tennessee home and watch the hearse, drawn by two white buggies, followed by a procession of buggies, going to Evergreen Cemetery. It was all so strange and quiet that I couldn’t think of anything to say.

We knew that she had embarked for the long journey.

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We were married on a cold February night in those lean and hard depression years. A lawyer, hard up himself, lent us his Chevrolet coupe to drive 25 miles to get married. I managed to get up $2 to give the preacher, which he seemed glad to get. I was holding meetings — at places where they could get nobody else. She was teaching school. We would make it pretty good.

But neither of us had taken “official” human nature into account. It wasn’t long until she lost her school and our only income was what I could get out of meetings. I would go out and put up a tent myself, then go back to the room, change clothes, go back to the tent and preach — twice a day for four and five weeks. Whole communities were revolutionized in those days.

But I was paid, mostly, with congratulations. I would get enough money to get back home, pay the rent, and put in enough groceries to do her until I could come back again. We sold everything we had. I sold my library, cashed in all my insurance. She cashed in her insurance. We sold her watch. I sold my gold belt buckle. The last thing we sold was her fountain pen. It brought $1.25, which with some chickenfeed in my pocket, was enough to buy a bus ticket to Waynesboro, Tennessee. I never missed a meeting. She never complained.

When we sold that fountain pen, the tide began to turn. But I am afraid I have magnified it out of due proportion; in those days a five-dollar bill, to us, was nothing short of a revolutionary change of tide.

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These last five years were our most productive. It was in these years that we went down to the sea in a ship, and did business in the great waters, and saw the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep.

I shall never forget the night before she was to go to the hospital for the first time. “I don’t believe I shall be afraid.” It was the voice of a little child, and, poor and sinful as I was, I would have lain in pain a thousand years to have kept her from being afraid.

No, she never was afraid. We rushed her there one night for an emergency operation. The night was deep, and on the operating floor there was nobody but the nurses and surgeons and me. While I sat out there alone, I had plenty of time to think — too much time to think. I thought of life and death, of pain and suffering, of Charles at home asleep. I thought of Eve bending over the lifeless body of one son, and looking at the blood dripping from the hands of her other son. What had happened up the great river to cause the sons and daughters of men to bathe the earth alternately with tears and blood? Somewhere, sometime, something had happened; and whatever it was, it was deep and vast and profound. I was sure of that.

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As King Lear said over the lifeless body of Cordelia, my wife’s voice “was ever soft, gentle, and low.” And as the poor old lonely king went on to say, such a voice is an “excellent thing in woman. “ But I never heard her voice so clear and soft and gentle as it was in those last weeks. One night, when neither of us could sleep — as was often so true — she strained me to her heart and prayed the most beautiful prayer I ever heard come from her lips. Every word was a clear as a star, and as calm. There was perfect clarity and continuity of thought. And there was a rhythm, which in some mysterious way seemed to be in harmony with the rhythm of the great sea. And in the background it seemed to me that other voices were blending with hers, and there seemed to be a mutual understanding. She was being borne out to sea, and others who had already reached that harbor of light and love, where the harmony of all things is complete, were welcoming her.

I know something of psychic phenomena. But I know that what I heard and felt in her arms that night was a manifestation of the reality of another world. Those words of hers were not the words of an excited woman who was expecting to be healed; they weren’t the words of one giving her “testimony.” Those words were words from a body of excruciating pain, the words of one who had been matured in suffering.

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As I sit here tonight writing, my thought trails back into the months and years, and here and there, like a falling star, falls upon some precious incident associated with her, incidents which are locked away in the depths of my being, and which will go down with me into my own grave. There she was, out there in our comfortable country place, sitting at the little organ in the hall, her face soft in the light of the kerosene lamp, playing, and singing in her own sweet voice, the songs that were old and dear when her father and mother were in their cradles. The simplicity and sweetness of it all made a strange appeal to me.

There was the night when I came home and found her shining our boy’s shoes. He wears the biggest he can get; they weigh ten or twelve pounds each. The shoes were brightening and her face was glowing. She rubbed and brushed, and then she held the shoe up to scan it for a dull spot. The boy was sprawled out in bed in an adjoining room. My first impulse was to censor her for all that work when he should have been doing it; or, if he couldn’t do it, I could have given him the money for a shine. But, I am thankful to say, I said nothing. That night, I didn’t go to sleep until late. Why was she shining those shoes? Why didn’t she have him to shine them? Ah, it was no burden to her. His white and blue sailor suits had come – his Naval Reserve suits. All too soon he would be on the high seas, and she wouldn’t have the privilege of shining his shoes. Every push and pull of the brush was a push and pull of the purest love that pulsates in the human breast. He was there in his room, sleeping a contented sleep; she would express her appreciation in as practical a way as she could.

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In all the years of her suffering she never once complained that God was not doing all things well. His ways, even in pain and suffering, were just and good. Her little red Bible told her that, and she never questioned her little red Bible. If it were His will, He could raise her up, raise her up without any man’s help. If it were His will for her to suffer, even to linger, she would testify to His goodness. When it was made clear to her that she would die, she said calmly to the doctor: “Since it isn’t God’s will for me to get well, and since you cannot make me well, why try to prolong my life; why not make me as comfortable as possible, and let me go home — to my Father’s house?” That made sense to the doctor although he had apparently never heard it put that way.

But I must say that my attitude was not always like her attitude. To tell the plain truth, every instinct of my nature has cried out in protest night after night.

They were nights and days of profound and prolonged distress.

I realized, as never before in my life, that I had come down into the great waters. I was face to face with terrible realities. It was not lecturing and preaching now. Books of sermons were no good —  at least for me. I knew all the answers — in the abstract. But somehow those answers were no good here. I knew what the best and noblest of men would tell me if I should go to them for comfort. They would tell me what I would tell them if the circumstances were reversed.

But the best of men, the warmest of friends could not help me in these waters.

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For many years I had been convinced of the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures. I had abundant reason to accept the Bible as God’s infallible Word.

What about it here in the deep waters? Here in the deep waters the Bible was the Word of God.

And then the words came to mind. “He tasted death for every man.” He himself was in agony greater than yours, and He Himself cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Pain and suffering and death had no mercy on Him, either. And here in your circumstances He is not an indifferent onlooker.

And my thought turned to the Cross. Who died there? He was, and is, “The Lord Our Righteousness.” He was and is God incarnate. Who died there? God died there. Why did He die? He died because He loved us. He died for our sins. “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us.”

The Cross tells me that God loves me, and loves her, to the last drop of his royal, pure and spotless blood.

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But her little red Bible says that the story did not end with the aches and groans and scarlet-drenched spikes and splinters of Golgotha’s distressed hill. Nor did it perish in the darkness and corruption of the rich man’s tomb.

Beyond all of that was a garden, draped in dawn, and fragrant. And voices were heard there — beautiful, healing voices. And one of them was the voice which had been silenced by pain and suffering. Her body is lying out here in the beautiful Memorial Gardens, where the grass is green, and where many roses are breathing. But the Bible says that Immortality is guarding that precious spot of wounded earth. Immortality is waiting for the sound of the trumpet —  waiting to gather her to its arms and clothe her in ineffable light and glory. Light will return to her eyes, rose will return to the cheeks, warmth and sweetness will return to the icy lips, and — I shall again hear her voice, soft, and gentle, and low.

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