Memorial Judge James F. Nelson, March 26, 2011

Honoring Jim Nelson (May 19, 1927 – February 26, 2011)

It was a happening, no doubt about it.  You know those films that show souls from unseen worlds speeding along overhead with an ambulance, or hurrying on to a wedding? That’s what it felt like. I write this as a dot, a mere dot, in a large universe of dots that loved Jim Nelson, human extraordinaire, and are equally dotty over his beloved wife Dorothy. The occasion?

The Memorial for James F. Nelson. That’s the facts, but here’s a sliver of a feeling, a perception of the day of his memorial. First, a week after he died, Dorothy continued the firesides, and as the first Wednesday evening came about without his physical presence, I sat there feeling like a small blip of a writer in observation mode.  I also felt as if a giant spaceship, filled with love, landed on the Nelsons’ roof.  I further felt as if Jim’s soul was tucked into this spaceship.  It was such a big spaceship, but still, I thought, he had to tuck in the edges of his soul, as it was so big it almost didn’t fit.

Exaggeration maybe.  Right up front let me say, “It’s never just Jim, as it is never just Dorothy.”  We, the gang on earth, left to carry on the torches of all those gone on in service, bend towards Dorothy, anxious to absorb within our own souls, any pain of loss or sorrow.  But meanwhile, we had a memorial to attend to.

Let’s just say, people in the surrounding community and from his long-time Bahá’í family followed Dorothy’s wishes, and all became like a human kaleidoscope, moving, stretching, bending, to the subtle needs of making this day, the day of Jim Nelson’s memorial, the best it could be.

As I prepared to be a volunteer, my soul felt an urgency, to rush, to be, to do, to join the other members of our community.  And you know, that’s just what happened.  The Baha’is worked together like meshed steel, and the people came.  All the law clerks, judges, members and participants of the legal field were there at the Pasadena Convention Center.  Then the Baha’is:  children who sang in a choir, “Love is just a magic penny, … just give it away,” Glenford Mitchell, distinguished retired member of the Universal House of Justice, most of the National Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States, noting the one not there was attending his daughter’s wedding.  Counselors past and present.

All told, there were close to 700 people, and the afternoon was interspersed with Judge’s comments, friends’ tributes, prayers, passages from the Baha’i writings, and songs by children.  A video, commencing with a resplendent baby in his birthday suit, brought “aawwws” and laughter.  We viewed Jim’s life in images, and we were a captive audience. More photographs showed Jim’s appointment as a Judge, while later, his measured voice filled with kindness, eloquence and love echoed in the background.  Images flashed to scenes of Jim, on behalf of the National Spiritual Assembly, speaking about the persecuted Baha’is in Iran, to a Congressional Hearing.  Some pictures of Jim as a fisherman, and a few interspersed showing Jim and Dorothy dancing.  The last slide showed their last dance.  Finally the program ended with a solo at the end, sung by someone who has the dusty voice of a winged bird.

Palpable love and unity floated between all of us, and later, we spilled out into the wide corridors surrounding the ballroom, and hugged and loved, and finally, went home, realizing as my daughter-in-law Laura said, “We all want to be better since attending this gathering.”

So that’s it.  Word dots in a giant mosaic, representing a heart.  Others will put it more eloquently, but as I said, “It was a happening.”

Esther Bradley-DeTally

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