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Have you ever encountered someone who simply radiated light, someone with an angelic soul so beautiful that you immediately felt a deep connection?
I met Jean Minney in 1970, both of us Baha’is in the same community that hosts Southern Methodist University. I was a young student and she was a divorced, middle-aged lady.
Jean had left her home in the Northeast in the wake of a failed marriage and resettled into a small apartment in University Park, Texas. She was silver-haired, short of stature, slightly plump, and approaching her 50th birthday.
She and I could not have been more different.
Being a lanky, restless 23-year-old youth still occasionally entangled in adolescent drama, Jean derailed my momentum with her penetrating gaze, uncanny insights, and profound faith. Straightaway she became a surrogate mother. Into her small apartment, many youth in the area similarly captivated by her presence would convene and succumb to an ethereal atmosphere that dispelled our worldly cares and elevated our thoughts.
Who was this remarkable woman, we wondered?
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Gradually we learned more about her inner spiritual life, which made her such a radiant and loving soul. She would say many Baha’i prayers, reflect deeply on the teachings of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha, and devotedly live her understanding of a Baha’i life. In one sitting, she could pray through an entire volume of prayers. From praying, meditating, and teaching her Faith through her actions, she had developed an angelic demeanor. Excitedly and joyously, she would confide insights spawned from these acts of devotion. Her enthusiasm was infectious, powerful, and absolutely captivating. We all wanted some of what she had.
Jean, convinced that the Baha’i teachings offer the solution to healing the ills afflicting humankind, told everyone she met about the happy news of Baha’u’llah’s new Faith. Strengthened by her indomitable beliefs and a fearless, intrepid sense of adventure, she would ride the public busses around the city of Dallas, approach strangers, warmly greet them, and hand out cards that depicted a Baha’i House of Worship on one side and the Baha’i principles on the other. She would only accept temporary employment in order to meet more people as she moved from job to job. She drove her VW Beetle long distances to join and encourage fellow Baha’is.
Whenever diverted from her itinerary, she unperturbedly and cheerfully acquiesced, saying: “I’m not supposed to go there or do that.” Jean’s life, I soon learned, mirrored her complete reliance on God.
I remember her linking arms with an African-American woman and the two of them walking together in an East Texas segregated neighborhood. I think of her repeatedly visiting an elderly couple some distance from her home, to whom she poured out her love and friendship. I recall her tenderness toward a youth troubled by some heartache. I learned that she rented a room to a university student from India, whom she lovingly encouraged to study and reflect.
Jean would listen to my cares no matter how trivial or inconvenient the hour. She challenged herself by embarking on public transport one Sunday morning with just fourteen cents in her purse to teach her Faith, supremely confident that assistance from the invisible world would provide for her needs – which it did. I look back at her wistfully longing for a companion who could understand and share in her devotion to God and humanity.
Sometimes Jean would confide extraordinary happenings. She was a firm believer that a Supreme Concourse of souls acted as guardian angels, as the Baha’i writings imply:
The meaning of ‘angels’ is the confirmations of God and His celestial powers. Likewise angels are blessed beings who have severed all ties with this nether world, have been released from the chains of self and the desires of the flesh, and anchored their hearts to the heavenly realms of the Lord. These are of the Kingdom, heavenly; these are of God, spiritual; these are revealers of God’s abounding grace; these are dawning-points of His spiritual bestowals.
If the generality of people seemed unaware of the existence of such divine assistance, Jean, whose life of devotion and service rendered her uncannily perceptive, recognized and delighted in their presence. When she was in hospital seriously ill and barely lucid, she rejoiced when some souls appeared and offered her a remedy. Once on a bus when she was approaching a person with one of her Baha’i cards, she felt two hands grab her shoulders and guide her off the bus – but when she turned around to see who had so forcefully latched onto her, she saw no one there and realized she was being protected from meeting someone undesirable. Another time on a long drive to a Baha’i meeting in the Midwest, she fell asleep exhausted at the wheel. When she awoke, she felt two invisible hands on her hands keeping the car on the road.
Jean bore six children in her marriage. Three preceded her in death. When her son David Minney slipped and fell into a large saw at his workplace, Jean grieved deeply but accepted this tragedy, confident that he was spiritually grounded. Another son, Marty, was accosted by a gunman – but also spiritually grounded, Marty displayed such disarming confidence that the gunman refrained from executing him.
One evening in early October of 1971, Jean phoned me. “Let’s go see your mom!” Margaret was my second mom – she and my dad had married in 1961. Being a full-time college student with a full-time job, I hesitated. But aware of her uncanniness, I agreed to the 900-mile round trip over that weekend to see Margaret. Reaching our destination near Springfield, Missouri, we found her bedridden. For much of that Saturday, Jean visited with her while I spent time with my dad. Afterward on our drive home, Jean said: “I spoke with your mom about life after death.” I was speechless at this revelation. Neither my dad, her three children or myself were aware of the seriousness of her condition.
Two weeks later, I received a phone call that mom was in the hospital. Arriving there after another long drive, I saw her writhing unconsciously in a hospital bed. Greeting me, her older daughter muttered: “She won’t recognize you. She is doped up for the pain.” Margaret had terminal cancer. Approaching the bed and standing over her, I said: “Mom, I want you to know that I love you!” My sincerity must have penetrated because she became conscious, reached upward, put her arms around me and held me for a long moment before falling back into her unconscious state.
Two weeks later I was asked to officiate as a Baha’i at her funeral. Dad, being a veteran of the Second World War, arranged for her burial in the Springfield National Cemetery. Early the next morning, I bade farewell to my grieving father for the long drive back to my home in Arlington, Texas. However, barely underway on the Interstate highway, my car was disabled by a succession of three major tire blowouts.
When the third blowout occurred, I stood by the car and called out to Margaret: “Look! I know you want me with dad. But I have to go back. If you allow me, I promise to return and be with him.” The rest of my homeward trip was uneventful.
Six months later, I married Nancy Lee on March 11, 1972. In July of that year, we moved to Springfield and for three years I spent time with my dad. It felt good to keep my commitment to mom, but the story doesn’t end here.
Jean Minney appeared always intuitively aware when she was needed. Nancy was very pregnant with our first child when Jean showed up at our door. Naturally, I worried that only 17 months earlier Jean had helped Margaret prepare for her passing. Not many years before, Nancy had missed a year at university owing to a viral infection, and her health was still not robust. Jean helped prepare her for the ordeal ahead. Later we watched Jean drive away late in the day that Sunday in her VW beetle to return to her home in Dallas. Hardly was she out of sight when Nancy went into labor. Hours later, my beloved wife gave birth to our son without complications.
Jean Minney passed from this world on my 63rd birthday: June 10, 2009. We think of her as an angel shedding illumination on those blessed by her presence. Who was Jean Minney? She was a light incarnate who surrendered her heart to her Beloved, as Abdu’l-Baha wrote:
Uplift your magnanimity and soar high toward the apex of heaven so that your blessed hearts may become illumined more and more, day by day, through the rays of the Sun of Reality, that is, His Holiness Baha’u’llah; at every moment the spirits may obtain a new life, and the darkness of the world of nature may be entirely dispelled; thus you may become incarnate light and personified spirit, become entirely unaware of the sordid matters of this world and in touch with the affairs of the divine world.