We’re five miles or so in the air headed for Chicago and I’m staring down the aisle at a sea of blurred heads… balding grays, curly brunettes, tawny wilds, hipster hats.
I’m halfway through an article in April’s Outside magazine, an article titled “What Killed the Bear Lady?” It illustrates the life and times of Kay Grayson, a lady living on a rugged patch of nature in North Carolina with her bear friends, Munchka, Susan, Highway 64, Betty Sue and many more.
After a particularly large bear raided her house and was found sitting on her mattress eating a sweet roll, she started feeding them, desensitizing them to her presence until she was able to walk into the “woods, hold out her long arms, and turn her palms to the sky. Then in a loving voice she would sing, ‘It’s OK. It’s OK.’ ” Grunting, shuffling, out of the woods, her furry friends came.
I read fascinated, the pages covering her previous life of Vegas, immorality, dancing and partying… talent wasted. Until, one day she stumbled upon what she considered God’s plan for her life… to take care of the bears. And isn’t this how we so often find God’s path for our life. A tiny step, a stumble, head-long we trip into His will for our lives and in surrender, we fall safe into the guiding arms of our Savior. Our life, once clumsiness, now a beautiful dance.
But as most stories go, there must always be an adversary and for Kay Grayson, these were the local hunters and poachers and often, she went above and beyond what was considered rational behavior to protect her bears, one time even landing herself in jail.
Upon her return from her short stay in the slammer, she found framed pictures of dead bears, one of these her beloved Highway 64, silent beside a gun-welding, smiling hunter. She screamed and raged until the police led her away.
The article ends with her death. That winter was particularly harsh and Kay was growing older. One neighbor reported her skin gray and discolored, hanging loosely on her ailing body. One of her bears, Susan, slept in her bed with her to keep her warm. And it is surmised that one morning, she didn’t wake and the bear, trying to save her, dragged her lifeless body into the woods, thinking she was protecting her.
“True or not,” the article states, “That’s a nice way to think of Kay’s end, her bears spiriting her body away into the wild. After half a lifetime of strife, she deserved some peace.”
I’m crying now, the sea of people all headed to Chicago blurring into one and I see myself standing to face this anonymous, blurred world of people and realize for too long I’ve considered myself “different, odd, too imperfect” to ever have purpose.
And yet, here, before me, I have read about a life, although different, eccentric, and hugely flawed… a life redeemed by surrender to God.
She challenged societal norms, fought hard for her beliefs, fought hard for the underdogs. Many times she got it wrong. Many times, she had to back up, say sorry, make amends. Her passion often led her astray but her vision never wavered.
Yes, count me within the numbers of the outcasts, the rejects, the crazies. Count me with these people, these people with their hardened insecurities formed by an unaccepting society to difference and I’ll show you, under all that, what a true soul looks like. Count me with these people. I see now, clearly, their beauty.
So to you I offer this, if you find yourself one of these people, I want to tell you something today that Kay sang to her bears…
“It’s OK. It’s OK.”
Sneed, B. (2016, April). What Killed the Bear Lady. Outside: 29 Best Trips of 2016, 98-105.