The Mellifluous Echo of the Magnanimous Soul, Revisited

Gracious Readers,

A year ago this month, I wrote The Mellifluous Echo of the Magnanimous Soul, about the passing of my grandmother, Margaret Johnston.

In reflecting on her extraordinary legacy, I realized the reverberations—a mellifluous echo—one person’s life—one magnanimous soul—can have for the betterment of those around them, and our world more broadly.

Such magnanimous souls, people of great personal strength and benevolence, live out a beautiful song—a song heard again and again across time, and by successive generations. These individuals initiate a virtuous cycle that begins by building into the lives of those they meet, who in turn build into the lives of yet more people.

The examples of my Grandmother Margaret and others like her vividly illustrate the error of our all-too-common belief that the actions of a single person can hardly make a difference.

Indeed, on the other side of the ledger, the events of this past week—filled insurrection and violence in our nation’s capitol—remind us that the actions of a few can matter greatly: the vicious actions of even a single person can be enormously destructive.

My grandmother’s life shows that the opposite is also true: the life and daily actions of one person can do a lot of good, too.

Peggy Sabens life shows this, too.

Peggy was a woman of the world who, like my grandmother, defined her life by building relationships and community wherever she went.

I learned yesterday of her untimely passing, which has prompted this reflection on the power of one person’s life to make a positive difference in the lives of many.

Peggy Sabens (left), me, and Lorene Burkhart (right). Lorene is longtime writer and publisher in Indianapolis to whom Peggy first introduced me, knowing that I was a writer. This photo was taken late February, a few weeks before Percy was born—and a few weeks before the pandemic shut our world down.

Peggy was among our first friends in Indianapolis. We met her at a fundraiser for classical education in Indianapolis, and after we met, she was never far from our minds; hardly one week would go by without us receiving an email invitation to a meeting or an event at her behest. She knew I was a writer, so she was always eager to connect me with local literary clubs—she was a member of every social club in town—and to other writers she knew.

I was always in awe of her passion for people and relationships—not to mention her stamina. How did she do it? I asked her more than once.

“You either wear out or rust out,” she would always respond. “And I’d rather wear out,” she’d quickly add.

She attended every one of our social gatherings my husband and I hosted since our move to Indianapolis from Washington D.C. three years ago. She always brought a theme-appropriate hostess gift—and a personally typed note of appreciation.

Peggy was a once in a generation soul.

It’s all the more heart-wrenching to receive news of her passing yesterday, which marked the one-year anniversary of a call I will never forget—my grandma was in bed and deteriorating rapidly.

One year ago today I flew to Toronto to be with my grandmother in the final weeks of her life. It was the first time I observed death in slow motion, and I was surprised and devastated when it finally came the morning of January 21, 2020. Many times over the last year my family has reflected with gratitude that Grandma Margaret died—and was mourned—right before the world shut down. In the weeks leading up to her passing, hundreds of people passed through her lovely home, the place where she spent her last days, to say their final goodbyes.

Over five hundred people attended her celebration of life, too.

I am certain that just as many, if not more, would eagerly celebrate Peggy’s incredible life if not for the COVID-19 limits on social gatherings.

A tale of two Margarets

I remember mentioning Peggy to my grandmother once: “Peggy—a lovely name,” Grandma Margaret mused. “It must be short for Margaret.”

A name is not the only thing my grandmother and Peggy shared. They also shared a birth year: both were born in 1936. They had common faith, which informed for both of them an unparalleled zeal for life and friendships—a zeal that seems all too uncommon in our increasingly isolated and alienated world.

Peggy’s passing is a great loss for Indianapolis.

I hope each of us can be inspired by the life Peggy—and my grandmother—led.

In the days and months to come, as the world re-opens and as we re-build life in community together—hopefully better and stronger—we can choose to harness the power we each have to bring light and life to our every interactions, to usher in a new era of cultural renewal and healing in our every day.

Who are the magnanimous souls in your life? How have you observed the mellifluous echos of their lives and legacies? How might their example help us better be tools of cultural and social healing in our every day?

I’d love to hear from you.

Grandma Margaret and Peggy, rest in peace.

You are loved and will be dearly missed.