It Is Well with My Soul
Ella Mae Johnson shares the wisdom garnered in more than a century of courageous and generous living.
(Page 2 of 2)
Graduate degree in hand, Johnson devoted her entire career to helping others as a social worker. She married the “love of her life,” Elmer Cheeks, in 1929, promising “to love, honor, and cherish” rather than the expected “love, honor, and obey” because “this is just what I saw as fair.... I would not agree to ‘obey.’ I was a grown woman, not a child.” Cheeks died just 12 years later, but the couple’s “very strong love affair” produced two sons, Jim and Paul: “Trying to be both mother and father, I may have been too hard on my sons at times. But they are now loving and devoted fathers as well as successful professionals. So it all came right in the end.”Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
With retirement in 1961, Johnson began to travel the world “in earnest,” journeying to five of the planet’s seven continents. “[N]othing [is] more important than a broad vision of the world,” she insisted. Along with vision, Johnson urged mutual respect. “I don’t have to accept what you think; but I will respect your right to go your own way.... I believe in asking, listening, and allowing people to come to their own judgments.”
In many ways, her life's journey was lengthy. She traveled from the fear she experienced as a young girl watching unjust humiliations to – at the age of 104, buried under a sleeping bag in her wheelchair to ward off freezing January temperatures – bearing witness to the inauguration of the country’s first African-American president. “Though we still need change, we also need to celebrate how far we’ve come,” she reminds us.
To say that Johnson’s life story is inspiring seems mere understatement. She learned to drive at age 70, loved to read throughout her life (“The 9-11 Commission Report” and “The Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” were recent selections), and raised $3,000 for AIDS patients in Africa at her own 100th birthday party in the middle of a blizzard: “People don’t always know what older people can accomplish,” she says without irony.
One of Johnson’s caretakers in her assisted living home, remarks of Johnson’s unwavering determination, “‘ ‘Warrior trumps worrier.’ ” Indeed, through an entire century of vast challenges and immeasurable change, Johnson moved forward in stalwart fashion. In 1973 she heard a Ghanian congregation singing the words, “It is well with my soul.” These many years later, as readers and supporters, we can all join her in saying, “So it is!”