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The final word is love

The final word is love

Michelle Tedford August 13, 2021

Every day this season, a pileated woodpecker has a good laugh at my expense. As I casually sit on the open-air patio that has become my work-from-home office, the immense red-headed bird comes shooting out of the hole he’s chiseled and makes a beeline toward me. At the last possible moment, he veers right, making a wide arch to gracefully land on the trunk of a towering walnut or cottonwood tree. He knows he’s startled me yet again and gives off a cackle that echoes through the woods.

He’s new to the neighborhood. I know this because I keep a list in the back of my notebook of all the birds I have seen while working from home. In 2020, I spotted a pileated woodpecker here just once. “Spotted” may not be the right word — maybe “gawked.” Its 30-inch wingspan and striking black-and-white markings make all other birds look like chickadees. This year, he moved in March 23, and he and his mate and their three fledglings have been a source of great joy.

2108_final_word_incopy.jpgIn this pandemic, my outdoor office has been a succor for the soul. There has been much stress, and not just the kind that feared a milk run to the market could earn you a deadly disease. There has been heartache and illness. And there has been death, including that of my father-in-law and longtime UD professor, William P. Anderson.

He was so much fun — scooping bowls of ice cream as big as their heads for the grandkids. Bill adored family and welcomed with a hug those of us resolved to join the Anderson clan. A Presbyterian minister and religious studies professor, he was smart and just, always choosing the path and words he believed Jesus would. (He believed Jesus to be a bit ornery and short-tempered on occasion, especially in the presence of intentional bigots.) He used logic and love to defend the rights of those our societies have marginalized. And he believed in the power of transformation, religious or otherwise. On the wall of his office hung a photograph of one of his favorite modern dances. In “Awassa Astrige/Ostrich” by choreographer Asadata Dafor, dancer G.D. Harris becomes the giant bird, power emanating from his long feathers.

Bill found love in all of creation. He believed love to be the spark of the first day God created, and he believed love to be the final word.

Bill and his wife, Carolyn, lived for the past 16 years on the reservation of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, what Bill often called the most beautiful land on Earth. I grew up on the lakes of northern Wisconsin, so their home on Long Interlaken Lake was a homecoming for the child in me. Bill would float on the lake on an innertube with the grandkids or sit alongside us during a boat ride, all the while looking toward the sky. He was always the first to point out a bald eagle soaring high above us. Local custom says you give thanks to the eagle for showing itself to you this day.

Bill found love in all of creation. He believed love to be the spark of the first day God created, and he believed love to be the final word.

“The God I love and experience is simply too big to fit into any one religion, any single religious expression,” Bill wrote in one of his books. It was fitting that for much of his life Bill lived alongside and learned from spiritual people whose beliefs and good works further revealed to him the face of God.

When we travel to the most beautiful land on Earth this summer for what may be the final time, we will look for the eagle. Unlike the prankster woodpecker, the sacred, soaring eagle is a messenger to the creator. Our message will be sad yet joyful, knowing the creator has welcomed Bill home.