It is difficult to write briefly about the Sydnors! Margaret, at age 98, does not attend all of our worship services, but reads Carla’s sermons at her residence in Westminster-Canterbury. She is a GPPC member of many decades, an alumna of our choir, and as you will read below, a former teacher in the city schools. Her late husband Jim was a career church musician, a professor at PSCE (now UPSem), and a noted hymnologist – his name appears in the front of several Presbyterian hymnals. He also conceived and invented the Zip Code. When Margaret read Betsy Rice’s “Credo” in this space a few weeks ago, she was reminded of a similar work that she and Jim created for their family. We thank her for sharing this six-course feast of faith!
To Our Grandchildren (and Children) on Our 50th Wedding Anniversary Celebration, Silver Bay on Lake George, NY July 1986
Because you are very special to us and are sharing in a very special time for us, we want to share something with you – a part of ourselves. The supper table seems an appropriate place and time for this sharing. Eating together has always been a special time for conversation. It is also a time for giving thanks. [And thanks] needs to be there as an attitude – a way of life. It is also a good time to think about the needs of others and what we can do about that.
Not long ago our Pastor asked us, “How is it that you are the way you are? At your age you have such ‘joie de vivre’!” We have thought about this and have decided on a few things that may be of help to you.
We have a good heritage and so do you, and for that we are most grateful.
We have our health, and we work to keep ourselves as well as possible.
We are interested in a number of different things. This takes us out of ourselves and involves us with a number of different people and the needs of these people.
We have suffered and have had disappointments – like Grandmother not having a mother from the age of three on; and Granddaddy not being paid for the work he did on the ZIP Code or getting credit for it. But even though we have had some sad times and maybe some bitterness, we didn’t stay that way. Hope was always there for us to reach out and grab.
We’ve not fallen into the trap of thinking that people had to be perfect. We know that we are not – though there is that drive to strive for perfection. None of us is perfect and when we know that, it is easier for us to be compassionate with others.
One of our joys has been that our daughters – your mother and aunts – have wanted to keep in touch with each other. We hope that when you are grown up, you will want to keep in touch with your siblings and will make the effort to do so.
As adults – and even earlier – our children have given us so much: ideas and contact with people we never would have run into otherwise; experiences we would never have had without them. Their lives have been real gifts to us.
But who are you?
You have been a very special person from the time you were born.
Why are you here?
None of us knows completely even though we may have lived 70 or 75 years. We hope that you will like yourself, at least most of the time. You won’t always like everything you do or the way you may feel sometimes. But remember that whatever you do, God will always love you; and if you are sorry for the things you do wrong, God will forgive you.
You don’t have to be or do what your peers want you to. In fact, it’s important to be yourself. That’s not always easy. You can’t always please everybody. In fact, as you get older, you will know that sometimes you don’t want to.
Take care of the whole you.
It’s all right to talk about how you feel – not all the time but when it is important – to someone who will really listen to you.
The very most important aspect of your life is God, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s different from just any god. God grant that you will let his power into your life to guide and strengthen you.
We want to tell you something about the Christian God. God is not a Presbyterian, or Lutheran, or Catholic or even a Jewish God – but more than any of these or all of them put together. Be suspicious of people who think they have all the answers.
[Both Jim and Margaret each changed courses suddenly to study church music at Westminster Choir College.] Sometimes our professional lives have been very hard. But most of the time it has been exciting. We still feel on Sundays as the Psalmist: “I was glad when they said unto me ‘Let us go into the House of the Lord’”. We hope that you will feel that way about church and want to be involved in it.
Life seems to be a wrestling with challenges. If we don’t feel challenged, maybe we aren’t really living.
Remember that the seas, the sky and the earth, with its forests, rivers and lakes are not ours. We are their custodians. Where they have been abused, we hope you will try to reclaim them. We hope that the world and beautiful elements of nature will excite you as they do us.
We hope you will be interested in all kinds of people and respect them as you would yourself. They, too, are God’s children.
We think that it is important to work for world democracy – but not with weapons. We feel the way is to make it possible for the poorest people to take care of themselves economically.
We hope that you will be willing to stick your neck out and work for what you believe. Granddaddy did this as President of the Committee for Public Schools in Richmond when some schools had already been closed. Or as Grandmother did by teaching in a Black school for seven years [before white children began to attend].
If you ever start feeling overwhelmed or sorry for yourself, remember the story of the custodian of the First Presbyterian Church in Charlotte. After a hurricane, he was working in the front yard of the church when a friend of ours, the pastor Dr. Charles Kraemer came to look at the wreckage strewn about. Dr. Kraemer asked the custodian what he was going to do about it. He replied “I’ll just pick up one stick at a time.”
We hope you will enjoy solitude as well as being with people; that you will do something everyday for fun; that when you are through with your schooling and in the workaday world, you will take off one day a week for rest. Do something different from your regular work.
And, lastly, we hope that you will face the future with a sense of adventure, curiosity, and anticipation. That is the way we face old age and death. It’s scary and exciting, too. We know that it is the beginning of a new life and that we will be with God in a new and fuller way; that we will be with people who love us. We won’t be losing you. We will still be a part of you in all that you do.
Don’t invest in ocean-beach property. The ocean is rising 4 feet per 100 years! [June 1986 statistic]
We love each one of you dearly and are glad that you could be a part of our Special Celebration.
Margaret Wylie Sydnor
James R. Sydnor