E. Ethelbert Miller
on Language and Family
By Gerry Hendershot
When I began worshiping at the Church of the Pilgrims in the 1990s, it was, like many mainstream Protestant congregations, demographically skewed toward old age. That trend has been dramatically reversed—younger now people predominate. The average age of Pilgrims' Session is 30-something, and its recent Clerks have been 20-somethings.
While that change is welcome, Pilgrims' seniors continue to maintain such opportunities as the Friday Club, a monthly 2nd Monday gathering open to all, but aimed at seniors. At Friday Club, seniors share a meal prepared by members and participate in a program led by a member (travelogues are popular) or an invited guest.
Friday Club was honored to have as its guest at its March 10 meeting the DC poet and literary activist E. Ethelbert Miller, whose visit was arranged by a Friday Club regular and frequent cook, Valentine ("Peggy") Wilber. For an hour, Miller entertained the group with stories and readings from his poetry and essays. "Best Friday Club ever!" said one participant.
Before the meeting, Ethelbert asked to see the sanctuary. Upon entering, he proclaimed, "This would be a great place for poetry readings!" And that's what it will be on April 29, the 2nd day of the "Verse and Vision Poetry Festival." Moreover, Miller will be one of the featured Festival Poets. For information and tickets, go to www.verseandvision.org.
Despite his youthful appearance and vitality, Miller is nearing 70 years of age, and has written movingly about aging and family, as in this excerpt from his memoir, The Fifth Inning:
When I’m very ill or dying, I can see my daughter coming to the hospital to visit. I can see the patient in the next bed turning on his side and saying “You’re blessed to have a beautiful child who still cares about you.” I’m not sad that we all have to die one day; I’m sad that so many of us will die alone. We will depart from the earth with our children living in another city. Maybe on a small desk or table there will be a card and flowers and maybe the phone will ring once a week. Maybe the grandchildren will send pictures drawn in crayon, adding a few misspelled words. You will prop yourself up in the bed and hold either a pill or a memory in your shaking hand. You will turn to stare at the ceiling or walls.
Watch a short video clip of Ethelbert talking about his family and reading his poetry at this link.