Ora Alexander was one of my very first patients at Church Health. During her first visit, I went through the usual protocols, giving her a physical examination, but much like children anxiously awaiting the end of a road trip, she wouldn’t stop asking me when the exam would be over.
I thought she just didn’t enjoy doctor’s visits. When I finally finished the exam, she asked, “Do you want a blessing?”
Waiting for the right moment to ask this question had kept her anxious throughout the exam. Not sure what to expect, I answered yes, and the next thing I knew she was anointing my head and my hands with water from the Jordan River.
Growing up on a farm in Selmer, Tenn., chopping and picking cotton, Ora preferred the “tomboy” activities to staying home and watching her younger siblings. This fierce sense of independence and unapologetic individuality colored the way Ora lived her 87 years.
She moved to Memphis in 1955 and lived in Binghamton for many years. She recalls when she first moved to the neighborhood, “You could hardly walk down the street.”
She says it’s much better now, “I prayed for the peoples that God changed their lives. When God blesses you, you always bless somebody else... A neighbor is somebody that needs help.”
Ora believed that everyone was deserving of God’s blessing and love. Her life motto was the golden rule – treat others as you want to be treated. She showed the world God’s love by carrying peppermints in her purse. She would explain this simple practice by saying, how do you show someone who’s coughing, someone who’s got a tickle in their throat, that they are loved? Offer them a peppermint, and from there you can start a conversation, too.
Bronnie Ware has written a memoir called “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying,” where she recounts her experiences working in palliative care.
She concluded that the number one regret people in hospice have is, “I wish I had the
courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
Last September, I had the privilege to interview Ora for StoryCorps while they were in Memphis. As Ora and I discussed her life experiences, Ora said she believed she had been touched by the Holy Ghost. That experience led her to “love everybody.” She believed “the more you give, the more you get back.” And she concluded, “I am satisfied with what I already have.”
She had no regrets. Peppermints will never be the same for me, and I will always know that I have been blessed because Ora Alexander laid her hands on my head.
To hear my conversation with Ora Alexander, visit StoryCorps.