Today marks a month since we lost our friend and colleague Bre Payton. Here is the eulogy for her I delivered at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Washington last week.
In the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville became one of the first writers to address the subject that would come in time to dominate all our pop culture – television, movies, and songs – the subject of the American girl.
“An American girl,” he wrote, “has scarcely ceased to be a child when she already thinks for herself, speaks with freedom, and acts on her own impulse… She views [the vices and dangers of society] without illusion and braves them without fear, for she is full of reliance on her own strength, and her confidence seems to be shared by all around her…
“Even in the freedom of early youth an American woman never loses control of herself. She enjoys all permitted pleasures without losing her head to any of them, and her reason never lets the reins go, though she may often be seen to let them flap.”
Of course, Alexis de Tocqueville never met Bre Payton. But whether he knew it or not, he was writing about her.
From the moment I met Bre I was struck by her confidence. There was much to be confident about. Blessed with beauty, wit, and a dry sense of humor, she could raise spirits and cut a man down to size in an instant.
Amazingly enough, this confidence didn’t make her lazy. It drove her to be better – to work harder.
But it did mean that she was sure, no matter which reality show was the subject of conversation, that she was destined to win. Whether it was The Bachelor or Survivor or The Amazing Race – despite her utter lack of geographical instincts – she knew she’d prevail.
This is how she was. As she once told a friend nervous about going on TV, “It’s easy – just pretend you’re Beyonce.”
Bre was confident, not arrogant. She was this way because George and Cindy raised her right – they raised her to be everyone’s Big Sister.
She loved her sisters and brothers – even enough to take them on the occasional illegal joyride to McDonald’s. She was, after all, the french fry queen – as she said more often than I can count, “they’re the only vegetables I’ve eaten all week.”
She loved being homeschooled – most of the time. She loved her country, her dogs, shooting – she was, much to the chagrin of the men around her, a crack shot – and cheeseburgers, and bold lipstick. She would post pictures of a messy bite surrounded by some of that bold color you see so many wearing today.
And she loved, most of all, the least of these.
“There is nothing free in this world except the grace of God,” Charles Portis wrote. “You cannot earn that, or deserve it.”
That’s the word I will always think of when I think of Bre – Grace.
She showed Grace to everyone, with a boundless capacity for it. Whether you were the leader of the free world or the homeless man on the street, she had time for you.
In our close knit group of writers and media, she radiated grace. In an industry where egos reign, she knew everyone’s name, about their families and problems, and at every opportunity, she showed them the love of Christ.
It is hard not to be selfish.
To wish He had given us more time with her.
But she belongs to The Author of All Things. He watched over her all her life, and He watches over her now, while we stay on that side of existence that groans in expectation of the glory to come.
In her poem on the Greek myth of Atalanta, the beautiful huntress who so many chased but could not catch, A.E. Stallings writes:
“You’d come to like the stories
Of princesses who weren’t set on shelves
Like China figurines. Not allegories
But girls whose glories
Included rescuing themselves
Slaying their own monsters, running free
But not running away.”
Bre runs ahead of us now. We cannot catch her.
But we can hope to see her again – the American girl, graceful, confident, joyful, free – because in the end she was right about her destiny. She won her race.
So I will miss her all the days of my life – until that bright morning, when we hear the voice of the Ancient of Days, the King of Kings, who sits on the throne, saying “Behold – I make all things new.”