The Lady in the Iron Lung


I grew up near Lattimore, North Carolina. It is best described as a wide spot in the road. Just one intersection in the center of town, no stoplights, and no police force. Just a quiet population content to live out their lives in simplicity. It could almost be said that about the only thing that ever changed there was the price of gas, but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate. The old lady that lived on the corner bootlegging whiskey died, the owner of the only store in town retired, and the elementary school that was there closed. A Bible college opened in its place.

Now every wide spot in the road has something akin to a local celebrity. They are always someone everyone knows (or knows of) whose celebrity helps define the town. Lattimore had several of them. Mr. Padgett who used to be the principal of the elementary school. He died over twenty years ago. Miss Nell Crowder who passed on seven or eight years ago. Eddie Harrill, who was something of a character but had a heart made of gold. He’s gone now too. And Miss Martha Mason.

Now everyone in town knew about Martha. Most everyone knew her personally because she might have been one of the most remarkable people to ever live. She was striken with polio when she was 11, the same day that her brother was buried after losing a battle with polio. She was paralyzed from the neck down. Martha’s parents were told she would not live a year. She was placed in an iron lung where she lived out the rest of her life (except for short period of times out of it). Some sixty years she lived in that iron lung until she was called home to glory two days ago.

Now the remarkable thing about Martha was not that she was in an iron lung, but it was just how full her life was in spite of a severe handicap. She graduated from Gardner-Webb College and then went on and graduated first in her class at Wake Forest University.

She had many friends who loved her and stopped by for visits on regular occasions. She had a backup generator for her iron lung, just in case the power went out. And when it did the local volunteer fire department always sent somebody by to check on her, just in case.

When the computer age dawned, Martha acquired a voice activated computer and began making friends all over the world. as a voracious reader, it has been said that there were few topics she could not discuss intelligently. A story circluates that she once questioned a visitor about the rowing team at Cambridge in such stunning detail, it was hard to believe she had never been there. She had recently joined the masses in getting a facebook account. Though her body had failed her while she was still a girl, her mind remained sharp and constant.

Martha wrote her autobiography a few years ago. See she had always dreamed of being a writer and getting that computer helped her realize that dream.

I never met Martha but I had an odd connection to her nonetheless. Once upon a time I too dreamed of being a writer. I spent much of my free time while I was in high school writing poems and short stories. They used to give out a creative writing award each year to a graduating senior that was named in her honor. Humbly I admit to being a co-recipient of the award. A wonderful classmate named Melissa was the other recipient.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Martha these past two days. I’ve read what people have written about her and I have come to realize that never having known her was my loss. Her passing is the world’s loss as well.

An acquaintance of mine, Dr. Mary Dalton, now a professor at Wake Forest University filmed a documentary about Martha several years ago, which is in the regular public television rotation.  A Charlotte TV station, WCNC produced a segment about her which is definitely worth watching. And there is also a YouTube segment about her.

When I think about Martha and the life she lived I think of this verse which may be the most comforting verse in the entire Bible:

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev 21:4 ESV)

At the risk of disseminating some bad theology, I’d like to think that Martha has been burning up the streets of gold, leaping and running, for the glory of God who did not choose to heal her on this earth, but who gave her grace to face adversity and ultimately healed her as her earthly dwelling fell to the passing of time.

Rest well Martha.


2 Responses to “The Lady in the Iron Lung”

  1. Oh, Mojo. 🙂

  2. debeyepps Says:

    Mojo…you are so sweet. This just made me cry at the end. I hope I get to see Miss Martha running around on the streets of gold in Heaven!

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