Monday, July 14, 2014

Remembering Sara

                                                                  Remembering Sara

Reflections on Building a Dream:  The Sara Smith Story

Gayl Woityra

Some twenty-five years or more ago I met a woman who impressed me so much I have never forgotten her.  At the time I was teaching "Humanities: An Introduction to the Fine Arts" at West Bloomfield High School in Michigan.   I had developed a unit on America’s famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.  In a local newspaper, I discovered that a Frank Lloyd Wright home was nearby and occupied by the original owner who would accept tours, especially of students.  I arranged to take a school bus of about 30 of my students to visit the home.  Actually, over the years, we had several visits.

Sara Smith, a widow, was one of the original owners of the home, called “My Haven”.  Her husband, Melvyn Maxwell Smith, held from his teen years the idea that he would own a Frank Lloyd Wright home.  Remarkably, these two public school teachers who at the time each earned $1 an hour,  achieved this dream.  Sara Smith was a memorable person.  My students and I were amazed by her exceptional welcome to her home.  She greeted each person at her door, and shook each person’s hand.   During the tour she told numerous stories of the development of the house, mesmerizing all of us with her wonderful storytelling.  Before we departed, she asked each person to sign her guest book.  My students were so enthralled with the warmth and spirit of Sara Smith, then in her 80s, that I would have to give a little talk on the bus because they all wanted to go back the next day for another visit. 

Warm memories of this wonderful woman have stayed with me over the years.  Recently I happily discovered that a book had been written about Sara Smith’s life and her exceptional husband and home:  Building A Dream:  The Sara Smith Story by Kathryn Watterson (Smith Publishing Group, 1999).  I obtained a copy from a second hand dealer.  Reading it has refreshed my memories, but even more has re-introduced me to one of the most exceptional women I have ever met. It is so very unusual to meet someone who truly lives her philosophy of life.  Reading this book, I discovered why my students fell in love with this elderly woman.  She was the embodiment of love.

Sara Smith was born, as was her husband whom she called Smithy, the child of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants to America.  She was active throughout her younger life in her local synagogue.  She and her husband-to-be were both teachers in the synagogue’s Sunday School,  and they were married in the synagogue.  Nevertheless, over the years she acquired an overlay in her spiritual beliefs when she became interested in Christian Science principles.  More and more those principles that today would relate to what is called the “mind-body connection” pervaded her thinking and living.  She would study those ideas of holding positive thoughts of health and wellness and love of all every day for the rest of her life.  More importantly, she lived them, and by her example, inspired all who knew her or met her.

The book about Sara demonstrates how she loved every person she met, and how as a school teacher she would greet each student at her classroom door, welcoming them to the school day with a hand shake.  She would hold intense conversations at parties with anyone, but especially small children who were often ignored in such situations.  She never met anyone she didn’t love.  As a reader, I was constantly amazed throughout the book about Sara that she never wavered in her loving attitude toward everyone and everything.  She only believed in the positive.  She believed that what she imagined could be come reality.  Therefore she always held positive, creative thoughts.  Long before all the current spiritual teachers emphasized “the present moment,” Sara was aware of that philosophy and practiced it.

Each chapter of the book about Sara is preceded with a brief quotation from Sara Smith.  Those quotations are worthy of recognition and daily application.  Probably they are similar to what she would write each day as words of wisdom that she would give to her husband or son to help them have a good day.  She did this for her grandchildren and friends as well.  Throughout her life she counseled hundreds who would call her for advice and comfort.  I want to remember her words as reminders of how to live one’s life.  Therefore I will add them to this little memoir of Sara Smith.  They include a few words from others as well that inspired her.

“God’s plan is a beautiful plan, and it is a plan that blesses everyone.”
                                                --Sara Smith, 1997

“Life is not about what I can get for myself,” says Sara, “but what I can do for my fellow man.”

“Talk to God before you talk to man,” says Sara.

“Love is the key to everything,” says Sara.  “So we must love everyone and everything.”

“I believe there is no such thing as a coincidence,” says Sara.  “There is one plan for each of us, and when we listen and obey these angel thoughts, God will give us the right answer to every problem.”

“In order to find happiness in your surroundings,” says Sara, “you first have to find happiness in yourself.”

“The more we give,” says Sara, “the more we have to give.”

“God takes care of our supply,” says Sara.  “We have nothing to worry about.  Our job is just to listen to God’s voice and obey what he is telling us.”

“Every challenge is an opportunity,” says Sara.  “And our dear Father will show us the solutions for all our challenges.  So we have nothing to worry about.  We never have to be concerned.  All we have to do is to listen, love and obey what we hear.”

“The minute we worry or get upset, “Sara says, “we are not trusting God.”

“I’ve learned that everybody’s wonderful.  God never created evil; he only created good.  We have to accept that everybody is wonderful and perfect.  Sometimes it isn’t easy to see that.  Sometimes we’re challenged.  But if we stick with it, it works.”       --Sara Stein Smith

“Love is not passive,” says Sara.  “Love is reflected in actions—a handshake, a smile, a kind word, a good deed.”

“The only career there is,” says Sara, “is the career of love.”

“If God would grant me a few of the luxuries of life,” said Frank Lloyd Wright, “I could do without the necessities.”

“By intentional destruction of the box as the basis of building, we open the road to a great future architecture.  This secret is not my secret.  It is the age-old philosophy of individuality—the entire core of the creative self, the entire spiritual world, which you may enter only by way of love of it, which is the greatest understanding, after all.  Now, be both patient and wise, and you can’t miss the integrity of this innate, inside thing.  See it operating in nature everywhere.  Go afield.  Go along with or go against your fellow man.  Go anywhere you please with eyes open to see.  Ask this troublesome question, ‘Why?’ And if you have a sincere wish to learn, it’s a kind of prayer.”   --Frank Lloyd Wright

“Gratitude is riches, and we have so much to be grateful for,” says Sara.

“There is no future moment, no past moment, but only this moment right now,” Sara says.  “The thought of knowing that this minute is the only minute I have helps me meet any challenge that might come to my mental household.  For example, if someone has hurt my feelings, if I am thinking, ‘This is the only minute I have—right now,’ then I don’t want to fill that minute with resentment.  I want it filled with joy, peace, happiness and love.  How could I possibly entertain one negative thought?  This is the only minute you have, so make the most of it.”

“When Smithy had an idea, there wasn’t anything that would stop him,” says Sara.  “The minute you have an idea, don’t say, ‘Oh, it’s impossible.’ Know that it’s possible?  If you nurture the idea, you’ll get more ideas that will take care of the first idea—and it will expand from there.  To expand is to progress—and life can become all that much more interesting!”

Sara says, “Promise yourself to be strong so that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.”

“If you would, indeed, behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life, for life and death are one, even as the river and sea are one.  In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your secret knowledge of the beyond, and like seeds dreaming beneath the snow, your heart dreams of spring.  Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.  . . . For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?  And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless ties that it may rise and expand and seed God unencumbered?  Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing, and when you have reached the mountain top, then shall you begin to climb, and when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.
--From The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, read at Melvyn Maxwell Smith’s memorial service, August 5, 1984

“By filling your thoughts with good,” says Sara, “you will find there is no room for evil.”

“We never have to be concerned about anything,” says Sara.  “All we have to do is to listen—to listen and love.  Oh, how important loving is.  Never react to error of any kind, because if you do, immediately there is discord.  And there doesn’t have to be discord.  When you meet up with discord, react with love, and before you know it, your enemy will be your best friend.  Isn’t that wonderful?  We don’t have any enemies.  We only have friends and we only express love.”

“Love never dies,” says Sara as she talks about Smith.  “Nothing ever dies.”

“God’s good never runs out.”  Sara Stein Smith, 2000.

Sara’s philosophy: “There is no spiritual error.  In God’s eyes, we are all perfect human beings.  We are perfect and complete.  We reflect eternal life.”

Sara’s response to negativity:  “That’s not the real you speaking.  The real you wouldn’t use words like that.” 

I feel blessed to have met Sara Stein Smith and to have experienced both her exceptional self and the miracle of her beautiful little Usonian home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  Learning more about her from Building a Dream, I have been blessed once more by the infusion of her loving ideals and living examples. 

Sara Smith died at age 97 in 2005 in Santa Barbara, California, surrounded by her beloved family.  She is remembered with love by all who ever met her.