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Ernest Wilson—If You Want To Enough

CHAPTER XXIV — One Was Golden

I celebrate two anniversaries every March, my physical birth on the 30th, my spiritual birth (into the ministry) on the 11th. It was eleven years later, to the day, that I joined the staff at Unity as editor of Youth. In 1931 we were to memorialize the first of two events to happen that year that all of us at Unity would remember. When I told the founders about my personal celebrations, Myrtle happily exclaimed that she and Charles were having a personal observance, the fiftieth anniversary of their wedding, March 29th—which prompted Charles to assert very firmly that there must be no public mention of the occasion.

I found this difficult to accept. As often in other matters I approached Lowell about the matter:

“Don’t you think we ought to do something special about it?” “Yes,” he answered, “but you know Dad and Mother don’t like ceremonies, especially concerning themselves. They don’t want any observance to be made of the occasion.”

That seemed to settle it, yet I felt that the congregation would be unhappy if the anniversary were ignored. Retta Chilcott, assistant to Lowell and office manager of the School, agreed. We arranged to have available a corsage of yellow roses tied with gold ribbon for Myrtle and a yellow rosebud boutonniere for Charles.

I was, as usual, serving as chairman with the co-founders, and so at the conclusion of Mr. Fillmore’s lesson (he preferred the term over sermon) I asked the couple to come forward from where they were seated at the rear of the chancel and stand facing the congregation. Then I announced the golden anniversary, and turning to the couple I said:

“Even though you’ve asked that no celebration of your anniversary be made, we who love you both so much feel that we cannot let this occasion go by unnoticed. We’ve had slight tokens of our feelings prepared. We ask you to accept this corsage and this rosebud with our love, and I invite you to repeat with me the vows you took half a century ago.”

Another Fifty Years

They stood like two shy youngsters as I repeated the words of the ceremony. When I came to the vows and asked Mrs. Fillmore, “And do you Myrtle, continue to take this man, Charles, to be your lawfully wedded husband?” she smilingly responded, “Yes, for another fifty years!” She wrote to a friend soon after, “We were quite satisfied to trust the half-century knot that had held us so well, but the new minister surprised us by making it time proof.”

It was nearly six months later that Myrtle Fillmore’s most notable visit to me occurred. She came to tell me she was going to leave us. My dismay must have been obvious. She hastened to explain. She was tired. She had gone on for some fifty-five years (since the remarkable experience of her having been healed of tuberculosis through the quickening concept of her famous affirmative prayer: I am a child of God and therefore I do not inherit sickness).

She wanted to make a change. She was going to relinquish her physical body and go on into the next dimension.

“But you can’t do this to us, Mrs. Fillmore,” I protested. “We need you. Mr. Fillmore may be the mind of Unity, but you’re the heart. We need the heart as well as the mind.”

“Now, Ernest, you know better. It’s time for me to make the change. Besides, you know I can help more from the other side of life than I can from this.”

I could only answer, “It’s between you and the Lord of your own being. Much as I don’t want it, I must release you from any selfish, binding thought—release you to your own highest good.”

We had an affectionate exchange of farewells. She greeted the members of the staff as usual and waved me another farewell by the elevator, and was gone.

Two weeks later a worker telephoned me: “Mrs. Fillmore has made her transition. Wouldn’t you like to go out to the Farm and see the family?”

I found them assembled in the living room at the home of Lowell and Alice. There was general discussion about the service; there would be organ music and just one song, a simple hymn, Myrtle Fillmore’s favorite, “Omnipresence”:

Always with me, I can never
Stray beyond His tender care,
For my God is omnipresent,
Here and there and everywhere.

The service would be followed by cremation, but not until after seven days. Was I familiar with that concept? Three days, yes; seven days, no. Why? The belief was that within the manifest physical body there are other finer bodies—the astral body, the etheric double—and their detachment from the body is gradual; that to delay cremation until, presumably, these finer essences were liberated, would avoid shock to the ascending soul.

Nothing was said about who would conduct the service. I left assuming that if they wanted me they would say so, but probably Francis Gable who had served in various capacities long before my advent, would have the service.

It wasn’t until I read in the evening paper that the services would be conducted by Ernest Wilson that I knew.

The service overflowed the funeral home facilities, and hundreds, among them some clergymen, stood outside the chapel on the lawn and listened to an amplifier. It took a long time for over a thousand people to file by the open casket, next the more remote relatives, and then the close family. Last of all was her husband Charles. In that moment to me he was not Charles Fillmore, world-known leader of a Christian faith who defied death and quoted Scripture that it was “the last enemy” to be overcome—but very simply, a grieving though tearless soul who had lost a lifetime companion. He seemed to me to have a strange and unfamiliar look, reflecting pain and unbelief. I stepped toward him from the place where I always stand in such services (by the head of the deceased, with the thought of protecting the borning soul from the negative emotions of the bereaved). My impulse was to rush forward, embrace the frail figure and say, “There, there, it’s all right, it’s all right!”

But I couldn’t. I had to respect his faith.

With Myrtle’s passing, other changes transpired. For years the founders had occupied a second floor apartment above the machine shop in the alley behind the Administration Building and consequently only a few steps from a side entrance to the Society’s building where services were held. Charles moved out to the Farm, close to where Lowell and Rick and their families lived. The old apartment, “Alley Castle,” was vacant.

A campaign started to get me to move in. I had been living at the Kansas City Club.

Retta Chilcott took the lead in persuading me to move. She said the School would redecorate and supply furnishings of my choice. It would bring me close to the School where I worked daily. I could broadcast from one of the rooms of the apartment, be right next door to the recording studio with access to a grand piano, simply walk across the court (alley) to my desk in the School, and across to the chapel where I broadcast the late night program, “The Friendly Voice,” with the help of Arthur Beall at the chapel organ.

The apartment had mulberry carpet, a practical wood-burning fireplace with wood brought in from the Farm, furnishings midway between antique and secondhand, and handblocked linen window drapes. It was very appealing, so I agreed. Happily weary from placing furniture and lamps and hanging a few pictures, on my first night I sat down to relax and say a silent, heartfelt prayer for my many manifest blessings.

The apartment was commodious. The entrance was near the top of the stairs and just across from the radio studio. It was entered through a small reception hall, with a large closet for wraps, shelves for odds and ends, and a wood box. The living room was ample with a fireplace at one end of the room, and at right angles to a carpeted hallway with two rooms on either side, and a master bedroom and bath across the far end. There was no rear entrance.

I knew I must shower and get to bed because there was a busy day ahead. I could plan celebrations later. I got into the big double bed, turned out the light and stretched out for a good night’s rest.

I had just gotten comfortably into the never-never land between waking and sleeping when I heard someone walking down the hall toward my open sleeping room door. That’s funny, I thought. It must be the night watchman. Why didn’t they tell me? I called out, “Who’s there?” There was no answer. I turned on the light and looked through the rooms. There was no sign of an intruder. I called Silent Unity and asked them to ring for the night watchman. When he came on the line I asked if by any chance he had entered the apartment. He assured me that he had not. “I wouldn’t think of doing that unless you asked me to,” he assured me.

Puzzled, I returned to bed and tried to go to sleep. There was the feeling of a presence, not alarming, not frightening, just eerie. I said a prayer of blessing for the unseen presence, if indeed it was that, and not just an overwrought imagination. But I wasn’t overwrought, nor given to psychic imaginings. I always felt that such things must in the evidence of the senses happen to some people, presumably spiritually developed people—though what few psychics I had known and credited with sincerity were not what I would think of as very spiritual; quite the opposite in fact.

The sound of footsteps continued night after night. I know about creaking floors in old buildings. They don’t creak rhythmically like footsteps.

I got in the habit of nightly audible prayers, repeating the Lord’s Prayer, and sleeping with a candle burning.

Then one day, a young man who worked at the School and whose family were friends of mine asked me if I’d go to an evening show with him. It gave me an idea.

“Great,” I said, “but the show will be late getting out. It’s a long way to Overland Park, and you have to be here at the School at eight in the morning. Why don’t you phone your folks, ask them if it’s okay for you to bunk with me, and you’ll be able to get a little longer night’s sleep.”

So he did. After we got to bed, prayers said and lights out, Burton sat up in bed in the darkness.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“There’s someone in the apartment,” he answered.

“What makes you think so?” I asked.

“I heard footsteps in the hall,” he said.

He hadn’t known of my experience, so it evidently was not just an overwrought imagination on my part.

What was it?

I surmise that you’re way ahead of my conclusion that it was Myrtle Fillmore trying to make me know that she was fulfilling her promise that she would still be with us. Why didn’t I immediately think of that possibility? I have no explanation. I didn’t think of that possibility until after the phenomenon ceased.

In my present view, the fact that my young friend also heard the footsteps seems like a loving reproach. I think that Myrtle Fillmore expected me to know!

Of Death and Survival

In the foregoing account I have told you something that really happened. The wisest people I know are the most cautious in their evaluation of such phenomena. Was the whole experience a projection of what I wanted to believe—was conditioned to believe? I did hear footsteps. Did I hear them only in my mind, my imagination? How, if so, does one explain that my friend, who had no conceivable reason to imagine them, heard footsteps in an empty hallway? If a disembodied entity can project such a sound, or the mental image of a sound, perhaps to attract our attention, it has to be by some power that we don’t have, or don’t know that we have.

I was not seeking an extrasensory experience related to Mrs. Fillmore; in fact it was weeks before it occured to me that it might actually be related to her.

There may be other explanations for my experience than what seems to me to be the most obvious one. But as Robert Ingersoll, a non-believer, is reputed to have said, “A man thinks not as he would but as he must”; and truth cannot be communicated, it must be evolved. Sometimes, too, we may be nearer a truth in what are called our superstitions than in our sciences.

Charles Fillmore strongly believed not only in the continuity of life beyond somatic death, but that he was never going to die. He had good reason to affirm so, I think, because he had so many physical challenges—and to an amazing degree overcame them—so if he had just said, “I’m going to get better,” or “I’m going to get well,” it would not have been enough. But in asserting, “I’m not only going to get better, get well, but I’m never going to die!” he may have been “reaching for the moon”—which I don’t need to remind you men have reached in fact—but he got over a very high bramble bush!

Why do I belabor this subject of death and overcoming? “Because,” as the climber said of the mountain, “it is there!” Death is, as we have it on Scriptural authority, “the last enemy to be overcome.” I venture to suggest that it is not so much death, as the fear of death that is the enemy; and that death (withhold your judgment for a page or two) is a necessary friend.

I am familiar with death. I have been very close to it several times in my personal life, and have ministered to many thousands of families in bereavement and to many individuals in terminal illness.

Let me tell you what I believe about this and why; it well may be that you already share some or most of my insight.

In the earlier years of our life it always seems that death is something that happens to others, never to ourselves or those close to us. When it does come close, we may cry out, as many have to me, “What have I done that this should come upon me?”

Not Forsaken

God does not leave us bereft or forsaken in the challenges of life, not even in bereavement. Always, somehow, in advance of our sense of need, he signals to us something of the answer.

Our hearts echo the question of long ago, “If a man die shall he live again?” and we find—or may find—something of the answer here and now. For from the time we come into this world, each of us repeatedly experiences both birth and death corporeally. Paul said, “I die daily,” and might well have added, “and daily am reborn.” He also spoke of the body as being one but having many members—how many perhaps even Paul did not know. We assume that he spoke figuratively, but we now know that both statements are literally true.

To our plane of observation the body appears to be one, but we also know that it is composed of myriad tiny bodies that have their brief life spans, their births and deaths and replacements, so that so far as the body is concerned we are continually dying and being born. Yet these changes are so gradual, so much beneath our attention, and we are so busy in the process of living, that for the most part we are unmindful of the profound twin miracles of birth and death by which corporeally we live.

Not only do we die and are reborn physically. We die mentally to old ideas, hopefully to fears, to prejudices, to superstitions, that we may be born out of these to faith, to tolerance, to understanding. And if we live deeply as well as long, most of us have experienced some emotional crisis so challenging that we may have said of it, “This is the end. I cannot go on from here!” yet we have done so, rising phoenix-like from the ashes of dead hopes and despair into newness of life.

The body, I think, is not the person, but rather a garment which he wears, his cloak of visibility, by which he has contact with this plane of life, that he may experience its lessons, its challenges and triumphs, and grow in grace and wisdom, in spiritual stature, into the likeness of that which from the beginning God envisioned him to be—the son of God.

Death may be viewed, then, to be not so much the end of life, as an event in the midst of life, conceiving that life is of God’s spirit, eternal, without beginning or end, clothed for a time with the garment of the flesh, but destined to immortality; that our life did not begin when we came here and shall not cease when the body is laid aside, for “we have a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens,” and what the body did not give it cannot take away.

Shall We Meet Again ?

Nor should we mourn, as without hope, our loved ones who pass on into the next phase of life ahead of us. Shall we find them again, know them and be known? I think we never really lose them, so long as love endures. It is not where they are, or we, but what we have found in common that binds us heart to heart, spirit to spirit. Sometimes in physical separation we are more conscious of an inward nearness. We reach to them in our sorrows that these may be lessened, in our joys to their increase by the sharing.

So it often is with those who journey into that undiscovered country, the Beyond. Not always, for there are some human associations that however compelling, are transient; they serve a special purpose; a lesson taught, a lesson learned, steps of growth taken together, no more. But surely there are some bonds that are so strong, so deep, so much of the spirit and so little of the flesh, that not even death can contrive against them. To such there is no barrier of separation. Each soul shall find its rest beside the one it loves the best, to know and to be known.

© 1984, by Ronald and Beverly Potter
All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission.