Wednesday, November 10, 2010
I've been quiet these last few days, as I was down in Long Island with my family. I returned late last night. A week ago, my uncle--the man who helped raise me, who provided for me, who loved me--unexpectedly passed away. It's been a challenging time, and there are challenges still ahead for my family, but our trust is in God's faithfulness, grace, and incredible strength.
My family asked me to speak at his funeral, to give a personal reflection. Below is what I shared, minus comments I added as I spoke.
I am honored to reflect on the life of my Uncle Cleveland this morning for several reasons:
1. The Bible says we are to give honor where honor is due.
2. The Bible speaks about the value of a good name, and today I will speak about my uncle's good name.
3. I am keenly aware that I am who I am by the grace of God, but also by the grace God poured upon me through my uncle's place in my life.
The public reflections I stand here to give are only an overflow of the private reflections I've made in the last several days since my uncle--or Unc, as my sister and I always called him--passed away.
It's amazing how much we remember at a time like this, how much we had managed to forget throughout the years, even how much we have come to appreciate as we mature into the adults that our elders were trying to turn us into all along. Sometimes we succeed. Sometimes we fall short. But may we ever be mindful of what was poured into our lives by those who loved us--and may we honor them.
Speaking on behalf of my immediate family, I can say that Unc was a committed husband for 51 years, a father-figure to nieces and nephews, a brother-in-law, and a friend.
But today, I really desire to speak for myself about the role he played in my life and the things he taught me--small and large--during my journey to adulthood.
While my uncle was not one to talk a whole lot about his faith, he confessed Christ, and he exemplified the character of Christ in one area that stands out most to me. He, along with my Aunt Mary, were truly unselfish. There were many areas where he could have been selfish, could have just taken care of himself, but he spent much of his life taking care of others. He personified selflessness to me.
When I was eight, he opened his home to my sister and me, giving us the kind of lifestyle others desire. I always say we had the big house with the white picket fence and two dogs in the yard! In that regard, it was a secure existence every child should have.
He and Aunt Mary made sure we had the simple things in life, as well. He gave us our first fishing pole, taught us how to fish, and took us fishing. He showed us how to ride down the highway and pump our arms to make the trust drivers toot! He let us talk on his CB. I can still hear him saying, "Breaker, breaker!" Then we got a try. To a kid, this was like Heaven!
More importantly, Unc was our personal advocate and mediator. When we would get in trouble and Aunt Mary would spank us, Unc was the one who, in his own words, "felt sorry" for us. I remember him saying once, "Mary, leave them kids alone!" I'm sure she didn't cooperate, though!
I watched my uncle go off to work before daylight every morning and return at night, sometimes after dark--and I learned one of the most powerful lessons of my life: the value and rewards of hard work. He never waited for someone to give him something; he worked for it and provided for his family. He was my example of taking personal responsibility, a lesson that has shaped my own values and worldview. Never for one moment did I think I wouldn't be successful, and I attribute that in part to what his work ethic taught me.
I left home to go away to college and have lived away from home ever since. Yet I can still hear his voice when I'd call--such excitement in his voice. That is cemented in my memory.
When I'd come home to visit, he'd bombard me with a million questions--about my house, my car, my job, my motorcycle. Of all the things he was proud of me for, I think he was most proud of my motorcycle! Sometimes before I'd leave to go home, he'd wash my car--an example of how a man is supposed to look after and protect.
I'd be remiss if I didn't say how much Unc loved my brother, Andrew. He talked about him all the time--and told all Andrew's business! And he'd be so excited to tell me, "That boy was 'round here today!" He loved all of us, but Andrew had a special place in his heart.
I will always remember the man Unc was--strong, mostly quiet, his booming laugh, even his snoring! I'll remember how he loved his family--not just in word, but in deed. He didn't have to say it every second; he lived it. He loved with his life.
Unc leaves a legacy behind: his marriage, his fatherhood, his work ethic, his life. He touched the lives of family and friends alike. He taught us lessons without even trying--and aren't those the best lessons of all? He wasn't perfect--and there's a lesson in that, too: be real, be true, and be yourself--and people will love you, not for who you're not, but for who you are. As my public reflection concludes, I'll simply add this: so much of who I am is a direct result of all Unc was and is--will always be--in my heart, in my soul, and forever in my memory.
Cleveland James Miller was born on April 9, 1929 in Laurens County, South Carolina. He was the son of the late Lillie Ree Dillard Davis of Clinton, South Carolina and the late Cleveland Miller. He departed this life on November 3, 2010, but his memory will live on in the hearts of those who knew and loved him.
Cleveland received his education in the Laurens County public school system. Later, as an adult, he faithfully served in the United States Army and was a Korean War veteran. He was honorably discharged from the armed forces in 1955.
After his military duty, Mr. Miller embarked upon his life’s work. He was an employee of Ferraro Brothers Construction until his retirement, at which time his employers and co-workers honored him for his hard work and committed service.
Among his involvements and activities was his membership in Community Baptist Church, which he joined in 1955 and attended for several years. One of his favorite pastimes was his participation in the Paerdegat Yacht Club where he spent many long hours enjoying the company and fellowship of his fellow members.
Cleveland is survived by his wife of 51 years, Mary Miller; two nephews and two nieces they raised, Bennie Miller, Andrew Ross, Marion Ross, and Adrienne Ross; a God-son, Kevin Vaden; one sister, Irene Gray; two brothers, John W. Davis and James Isaac Davis; and his sister-in-law, Alma Ross. He was predeceased by siblings Sallie Davis Hunter, Lawyer Odell Davis, Leroy Miller, Minnie Pearl Henderson, Annette King, Bennie Lewis Miller, Freddie James Davis, Linda Cheeks, Willie B. Davis, and Alberta Pinson. Cleveland Miller touched many lives, and leaves behind a host of nieces, nephews, and other relatives and friends.
I honor the memory of my uncle, and I thank God for allowing me to have him as long as I did.