January 22nd, 2013 Catherine Stevens Garrett was born on Independence Day in 1956. She took that birthday to heart and grew up with a beautifully independent spirit that always rooted for the underdog. She was a clear and willing debater for the causes of civil rights and equality for everyone. Fiercely competitive in board games and cards, she taught her four younger siblings early on that if she looked at your cards, that's not cheating, it is your fault you didn't hold the cards close to your chest. Born in Scottsville, NY, she was the oldest daughter of Joe and Anne Stevens. Our family moved to Nashville when she was 10.
I remember one day not too long after the move all of us racing through an old trolley car in Centennial Park which had an open plank with an exposed nail. Katie fell on it and badly damaged her knee which required tons of stitches, caused a pretty big scar on her knee, and required that she be interviewed by lawyers from Centennial Park. The story was that Katie had not learned to speak southern yet so when they asked her if her mom carried her to the hospital, Katie replied, "No. My mom carried me to the car, then drove me to the hospital." She was precise about language, just another sign of her intelligence and wit. She was invited to join Mensa, didn't have to go to the movies since she could read a book in about the same time, and she loved sciences. She met Andy Garrett at John Overton High School when she was 16 years old. Katie has always loved family. And Katie loved Andy devotedly and with passion. They married when she was eighteen, moved around the country while keeping a close circle of friends here in Nashville especially Danny, Elizabeth, Tom and Babs. Her crowning achievement in her life was easily the gift of her three, beautiful and smart and funny daughters--- Andrea, Kelly and Mary. They are her source of pride and joy. She was a senior chemist at Environmental Science Lab and loved her work. She loved the precision of a lab and working on environmental issues.
She had a clear voice that could cut through all the junk and speak her truth in love. Her voice was so clear that when we sat down on Sunday night to plan Katie's service, we could hear her telling us exactly what to do. It only took us about 10 minutes because as soon a topic was brought up, a daughter or Andy or one of her siblings would say, "No, she would hate that", or "Yes, Mom would want that." Once we got past the business of her funeral, the circle of love and grief moved on to topics that Katie really cared about. We were free to gush over her two new grandbabies, Rylee and Ella. Then we could listen to Regan pick up Katie's story-telling mantle and describe with humor and grace all the things she remembered about her grandma. And then we could all laugh as we listened to Ryan say "I'm just saying..." before he launched in to a story. In that circle one by one people started remembering the story, Katie's story. It's the story of the charitable sister who always helped us at Thistle Farms in a pinch, the story of the loyal friend who practiced her love in deeds. The story of the wife that even after her husband had his own close call with death last year, could never talk about her life without him. The story of a proud mom who loved watching her children grow. She was beautiful and didn't have a vain bone in her whole body. She would give you the shirt off her back without a thought. As the stories that reflected these traits circled around the room, the thing that made me so sad was how much she would have loved it. The stories woven from the pictures scattered across the table rose like hope in the room. We could all hear her voice, feel her love that could never be doused by death, no matter how quickly or hard it swept in. It was a holy communion grounded in the hope of resurrection and the truth that love never dies. You could feel Katie's spirit leading the evening.
In addition to inviting Thistle Farms, the bath and body care company run by women surviving lives of trafficking, addiction and prostitution, to her company every year for a luncheon, she helped Thistle Farms get clean water for the products, secure a donation from the lab of a dozen tables and came to teach us how to use our still to make essential oils. Watching her work in front of the machine all day was amazing. She helped me see how changing things incrementally made a big change in the quality and quantity of the essential oil. She packed about 20 pounds of rosemary into the basin and started heating the water to steam the plant. After a couple hours the 20 pounds were reduced to a couple milliliters of oil -- the best and most healing qualities of the plant. Today that image of Katie, the scientist standing before that machine, a tool of healing and justice, is my symbol of her resurrection. So much has been laid aside. So much of the burden of her life is done. So much good stuff that feels like it was new growth coming this spring has been set aside. And what is left is the essence of her that was lived out like a sweet beatitude. She believed this gospel offered for her today. She believed that when you distill it all down, we are blessed in our sorrows and in our poverty. She believed that love was the essence and she carried that out every day of her life.
To honor the life and gift that was Katie, to take meaning for how we should live in the face of her death, means we should live and hold these beatitudes close. We should, like Katie, give drink to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, food to the hungry, comfort to those in sorrow, be a champion of prisoners, a nurse to those who are sick, and to bury those we love with too much fuss and with tenderness.
This is the faith she lived and died holding close to her heart. The essence of Katie is with us in spirit and truth and love. It is what will allow us to return this beautiful child of God to the earth and make our song alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.