When I first met Caroline Bartmettler, she was already in an incapacitated state and unable to communicate with me. Babette and I prayed the last rites by her bedside while Heidi joined us via Facetime. It was a holy and solemn experience and it marked the start of the next great adventure for Caroline.
Those of you who knew Caroline knew her love of travel. Heidi and Babette tell stories of some of Caroline’s great adventures with them in their childhood. How when they were living in France at the height of the Cold War and Caroline decided she wanted to go to Berlin. Her husband’s military career would not allow him to travel to Berlin, so Caroline, one who was not easily discouraged from an adventure, threw her two young daughters in the car and drove across France, into Germany and, at one point, down a meandering rural highway with barb-wired fences and armed soldiers at strategically placed positions along the road. Or the time, that she decided to go on holiday to the Spanish coastline but didn’t plan ahead and book hotel rooms so that when they got there, they had no place to stay. And, because apparently everyone goes on holiday in the month of August in Spain, they couldn’t find a place to stay once they got there and ended up staying at the home of a bartender they met whose house had dirt floors and no running water, though apparently the view was spectacular. That is the spirit of adventure to say the least, and one that would not be deterred because no matter how good or bad an adventure turned out, Caroline’s favorite expression was, “Well, that was an experience!” She might have been moments away from the greatest disaster but instead of lamenting or even complaining, she was exclaiming, “Well, that was an experience!”
It is a beautiful spirit that embraces the world from the perspective of experience instead of expectation. Experience allows us a certain amount of freedom in our actions, thoughts, and beliefs. Instead of defining our expectations of a person, a place, or an event and thereby limiting their possibilities, we discover that life is full of potential and the only thing holding us back from experiencing life is our own preconceived notions of how a thing should be. When we recognize that we have confined a situation or constrained an adventure by placing our own criteria on it and then let go of those expectations, we are able to not only embrace the possibilities life has to offer us, but to embrace the possibilities that God has created for us. To live into experience rather than expectation releases us from judgment and allows us to see the world in new and different perspectives, allowing us to see the life anew. Instead of defining it, we allow the world to define us—to become part of us and that is who Caroline Bartmettler truly was—an adventurer, a pilgrim, one always seeking and refusing to allow others to define her and instead allowing her journey through this life to define her.
In Deuteronomy we are told that a “wandering Aramean was my ancestor.” The passage goes on to describe how the covenant and promises with God—that he would be there God and they would be his people—spring out of this understanding of the originator of the Abrahamic faith as a wanderer, a pilgrim, one who embraces the role of stranger. But even more than simply an adventurer’s spirit, the wandering Aramean and his ancestors embrace a code of ethics that always works toward honoring the stranger, the less fortunate, because they have known what it means to be a stranger in the land and that knowledge has stirred their compassion for others.
Caroline was a strong and independent woman, some might have defined that as stubborn, but for Caroline, it was more about the refusal to be limited by her gender or any preconceived barrier—real or imagined. As a teenager she wanted a better education and paid for private school from money she made singing in a select group of young women called the Harmonettes. She became an Occupational Therapist in the 1940s when the field was relatively new and after a brief respite being a mom, would return to the field as a defining part of who she was and a way of living into the compassion her life and adventures would forge in her. That wandering Aramean compassion would drive her spirit of volunteerism and community service, volunteering with Altrusa, hospice, and tutoring at E. D. Nixon School in order to help young children from socio-economic depressed backgrounds know that others cared for them and wanted to help them to succeed. For Caroline it was more important to be a giver than a taker and when measuring one’s life, it should be filled more with giving than receiving.
That compassion extended into other areas of her life, especially when it came to her daughters. She taught her daughters to be strong and independent in and of themselves not allowing anything to hold them back or become dependent upon another person to define or support them. In essence, she taught them not simply self-reliance, but belief in themselves and a fearlessness in facing the world on their own terms. She honored her daughters and other girls—volunteering as a girl scout troop leader throughout her daughters’ growing up years.
She understood the ethical code of what it means to be a wandering Aramean—the knowledge of how precious life is, especially when understood as an experience without expectation of your own needs, desires, or preconceived ideas. And that understanding led her to a life of giving of herself in order to build up others, to help them find their way and no longer be strangers in their own place. It is that same compassion which compelled her to care for and honor all of creation, most especially her cats. Maryanne Elizabeth was a cat she had for 21 years. Maryanne Elizabeth enjoyed a place of honor at the dinner table, in her high chair, with her food served to her in a silver bowl—though we might find that behavior to be extravagant or whimsical—I think instead it is further evidence of a deep rooted compassion for all things—for people, places, animals, and all of God’s good creation.
Caroline did not live into the expectations of the people/cat hierarchy—at least not from a human stand-point, she may well have been living into them from a cat’s stand-point. But she didn’t live into a life based on other people’s expectations anyway—from ensuring her own education as a teenage girl and young woman in a society which valued a man’s education and status over that of a woman to her travels around the world—life for Caroline was always about experience, not expectation.
So for Caroline, this next great adventure—her entrance into the New Jerusalem where death will be no more, where mourning nor crying nor pain will be no more—is as a conqueror, as an inheritor of the kingdom and God will be her God and she will be one of God’s children. Amen.
A funeral homily for Caroline Bartmettler
Monday, April 29, 2019
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer