That’s precisely what 86-year-old heroine Sadie came to understand in the novel The Song of Sadie Sparrow. Sure, her husband Ed had died years earlier, and she was hardly a priority for her daughter Dana, and she would be spending what was left of this life in a nursing home. But it was an awfully nice nursing home. A fun Activities Assistant named Meg was about to interview her for a mini-biography. And whenever she thought to turn her eyes upon Jesus, she could scarcely contain her joy.
So the Beatles were wrong. Love is nice. But all we really need is hope, as this excerpt from Sadie’s story demonstrates.
Meg’s questions were definitely intriguing.
That night after dinner—even though tablemate Gladys managed to find fault with the carrots and onions, it had been a delicious meal of impossibly tender pot roast and cornbread muffins—Sadie wheeled herself to the built-in desk in her room, flipped on the lamp, and pulled her best pen and a few sheets of stationery out of the drawer. No notes were needed for the “who, what, where and when” queries of “Part One, The Basics”; but “Part Two, Beyond the Basics” included a number of questions deserving some thought, and Sadie didn’t want to attempt to answer them off-the-cuff. Someone—okay, her daughter Dana Sparrow Maxwell, to be precise—might one day read Meg’s report on Sadie’s life, and it might be Sadie’s last opportunity to impact a life that had gone tearing down the wrong path, the path to what Sadie called “dead-end careerdom.”
The first of these questions was pretty broad. “Why do you live here now?”
Sadie started jotting down the answers in her arthritic hand.
1. Because I have heart failure and need help. Can’t even safely transfer into bed or onto the toilet on my own and that means the retirement home won’t have me anymore.
2. Because living with my daughter was not an option. Her plate is plenty full without adding a helpless old mother to her duties.
She sat back and thought for a moment. Does that sound pathetic? Dana did not suffer whiners gladly. Imagining the eye rolling these thoughts would provoke, Sadie crossed out her second point and substituted a more positive answer:
2 . Because I wanted to live with people my own age, with the same values and experiences and hope for the future.
She liked that. It was true, Dana would like it, and it might lead to an interesting conversation with Meg.
3. Because it’s a beautiful facility with a dedicated staff and my daughter made sure the bill will be paid to make up for otherwise ignoring me.
Sadie put a period after “staff” and crossed out the rest, sighing. It was pathetic that she was framing her answers in order to avoid irritating her so-often-irritable daughter—especially since said daughter would most likely not see her answers until she was cleaning out this room after the funeral (an event which Dana would probably greet with both relief and more irritation, since it would no doubt interfere with some important business meeting).
Still, Sadie’s goal here was to plant seeds with eternal impact, and that meant she’d have to set aside all her personal, earthly complaints. She wanted Dana to put down the biography of Sadie Sparrow thinking, “What a woman! I want to be just like her, and spend all eternity with her! How can I be sure of it?”
Sadie laughed. Okay, then, she’d settle for a “Gee, she wasn’t nearly as stupid as I thought. Maybe there’s something to this eternity business after all . . .”
That reminded her of a favorite song, and she started singing it in her wobbly old voice: “Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me.”
She looked over the rest of Meg’s questions and decided to call it a night. She was tired, and she still had some time to frame her answers before their meeting on Friday. She tidied up the desk and closed her eyes, letting her thoughts drift heavenward on the wings of the old hymn.
“Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling ‘O sinner, come home.’”
The best rendition of “Softly and Tenderly” she’d ever heard was Tennessee Ernie Ford’s. He had gone on ahead long ago, she knew, not too long after Ed.
“Oh, for the wonderful love He has promised, promised for you, and for me.”
She wondered if they had met in heaven, maybe had even sung some hymns together. Ed had always been a big fan of Tennessee Ernie’s deep-as-the-ocean bass.
“Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon—pardon for you and for me.”
Thinking of Ed and Tennessee together was surprisingly comforting. And one day, she would join them.
Which reminded her of another old favorite of Ed’s.
“Just over in the glory land,” she sang, scrunching up her face just like a Spirit-led gospel singer,
“I’ll join the happy angel band. Just over in the glory land!”
She was smiling now, almost giddy at the idea of heaven and glory and seeing Ed again.
But oh, in the meantime, it was good to be alive!