Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Witnessing of a Hero’s Journey

By Jon Dunnemann

From left to right Eva, Wilda, Ivy, William "Bill" and Julie Smithers

The treasured life of this widely beloved hero’s journey began to unfold for me through the beautiful memories that were often shared with me by my wife, Wilda. For example, she has exuberantly recounted how both she and younger sister Julie would remove their father’s boots upon his return home from a long day at the US Army Base in Hawaii and then climb into his lap in eager anticipation of his forthcoming sweet singing of traditional folk songs to all three of his wonderful daughters in the most joy-filled and reassuring fashion.

There can be no doubt that this American Citizen, Christian man, son, brother, dutiful husband, father, war veteran and loyal friend was truly grateful for all of the blessings that God had bestowed upon him and his family all throughout his life. He has always been exceedingly thankful for and enormously proud of each one of the ladies in his household. Resultantly, both his wife and their precious children are a magnificent and radiant reflection of the awesome gifts of God’s goodness, grace, and greatness.

As even further evidence of Dad’s immense love for his family, I also recall the tremendous delight that he took in showing me an old reel-to-reel tape deck footage of the entire family enjoying themselves during some of their time spent living in Hawaii where youngest sister Julie was born. For me, it was absolutely amazing to be able to see my future wife playfully moving about as a little girl along with sisters’ Ivy and Julie. There too was Mother beaming and so completely contented. The rather brief glimpses of Dad revealed him either washing the family car or fixing something that needed mending. That is what a servant-leader takes joy in – the doing or owning and fully accepting the responsibility.

Growing up on a farm just outside of Richmond, Virginia in the town of Doswell his two sisters Aunt Margaret and Aunt Silvia, his Mother and Father, and his closest friends called Dad by his nickname Buck which denotes a robust and spirited young man. Based on so many other stories that have been told to me, I know that in his early youth Dad displayed many outstanding qualities such as courage, dependability, fortitude, ingenuity, kindness, loyalty, and responsibility. What has been so incredibly inspiring to me is not only that he managed to consistently maintain these valuable character traits but that he found the motivation to further commit himself in his advancing adult life to an even more rigorous pursuit of daily spiritual practices that included prayer, bible reading, exercise and being of service to others wherever he felt God was calling him. This powerful combination perpetually produced ‘fruits of the spirit’ that he freely gave to others while desiring absolutely nothing in return.

As was quite common during that period in time, Dad married his one and only high school sweetheart, joined the Army, and along with many other brave men did a tour in Vietnam for which he was later awarded the Purple Heart. Eventually, after 21 years of outstanding service he retired at the rank of Army Command Sergeant Major. True to his nature and his military training he made sure that his family was well prepared for the next chapter in their life.

Often referring to themselves as Army brats, the Smithers family had spent several years living on Army bases in Texas, Kentucky, Hawaii, and Germany and elsewhere. Upon initially resuming civilian life, Dad entered into the Real Estate sales business and together Mother and Dad eventually purchased Whispering Pine a state licensed residential health care facility (RHCF) which they later expanded from 25 to a 50 bed capacity.

When the timing was right, they both returned to school with Dad obtaining a B.A. in Business Administration from Trenton State College and Mother not only attending Georgian Court College where she received a B.A. in Psychology but ambitiously pushing herself on to the next level and successfully obtaining her M.A. in Educational Psychology from Rutgers University. Together, these gorgeous love birds continued to raise the bar by demonstrating to their children how to live each day with a sense of calm, purpose, meaning, and willingness to share all of their talents, time, and home with their children’s growing families, other relatives, and an ever increasing spectrum of cherished friends.

Probably the most important lesson that I learned through my increasing close and honest relationship with Dad is that as part of our human striving or dealing with “life as adventure”, one ultimately discovers that wisdom increases through the ongoing process of serving others.” For he loved all of life, beginning with the birds to whom he sang in the early morning, the flowers, the trees, the fruits and vegetables that he planted and nurtured to their fullness, and all animals. He had a giant heart for people and expansive respect for the elderly, innocent, neglected, suffering, vulnerable, and weak among us. He taught me, as only the great teachers do, by his example.

It was not his manner to ever try to talk anyone into anything. No, he was simply a centered man earnestly living his deep principles every day in everything that he did. I feel extremely privileged to have been mentored and loved by him because it afforded me the rare and much needed opportunity as an adult to witness a real hero’s journey.

Thank you Father God for the generous gift of retired Army Command Sergeant Major William E. Smithers and for all 82 years of his life. We have all truly been blessed by his life example, along with his never-ending friendship, joy, knowledge, loving kindness, patience, understanding, and wisdom.