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Happy Birthday Ellen White

Something shifted the day I learned that Ellen G. White and I shared the same November 26 birthday. I was a student at Sligo Elementary School who found much pleasure and inspiration in reading biographies and memoirs for book reports. Booker T. Washington, Clara Barton, Luther Burbank, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther. The books (Deliver Us From Evil, Edge of Tomorrow, The Night They Burned the Mountain) by Dr. Thomas A. Dooley III about his experience with refugees in Viet Nam and Laos totally mesmerized me as did the stories of Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki adventures. I wanted to understand why they did what they did, what their call to action was, and what sustained them in the challenging moments.
Knowing that “Mrs. White” and I were both Sagittarians suddenly made her real, not just another notable historical figure. Someone who had a day of birth. A family. Siblings. Even a twin sister! Someone who had to grow up with a particular bundle of personal characteristics, like I was doing. I came to think of her more often as “Ellen” from then on, which also happened to be the name of my best friend Ellen Quackenbush. It occurred to me that our symbol of the Archer aiming an arrow into the heavens in the quest for big picture ideas and greater awareness fit her perfectly. What I understood about her work then also squared with being a curious, imaginative, and energetic Sagittarian soul. I wondered if we would have become special friends if we had been in school together.
I quietly adopted her as a “sister” because of the matching birth date and because I only had a younger brother. I also looked up her birth year relative to the Chinese Zodiac in order to find other clues to her personality.  Ah ha. Though I was a small insignificant rat, the first animal on the list of creatures that appeared to Buddha, she was the last one to show up—a boar. Boars are self-reliant, honest, trustworthy, diligent, good listeners, great fundraisers, big-hearted, and peacemakers. I would have treasured a friend like this. But I was curious about whether she would cast herself as an early bird or night owl. Was she naturally messy or tidy? Would she pull apart an Oreo cookie before eating it? Did she prefer dogs or cats?  Would she read books on my shelf—To Kill a Mockingbird, The Peter Principle, Unsafe at Any Speed, The Medium is the Message? How had she come to terms with the horrible trauma and disfigurement of being struck by a rock? What was it like to have the first vision and the burden that came with it at 17 years of age? My schoolmates and I were distracted by the freedom and responsibility of having a driver’s license, of wondering who would get drafted into the military, and to what colleges we’d apply.
During the decades that followed with much tumultuous debate about the nature of her divine inspiration and its role in the Seventh-day Adventist church, I have found a serene solace in remembering she was a human being with whom I would have shared a frosted chocolate-with-cherry-filling birthday cake.
And then in recent weeks, I read Alden Thompson’s Beyond Common Ground in which he references the human personality types and cognitive styles organized by the Myers-Briggs system in his discussion of liberal and conservative points of view. Why hadn’t I reflected on this aspect of Sister White sooner since I’ve long known I was an ENTP?! She fits the INTJ type that sees patterns in external events and applies long-range perspectives, has high standards for self and others, follows through once committed. On the other hand, maybe she is more of an ENFJ with broad social sense, empathetic tendencies and devotion to others.
All of this conjecture of character and personality types is fun as I look for ways to better relate to or interpret people and their actions as well as my own response to them. Yet I also remind myself that “the rest of the story,” as popularized by Paul Harvey’s radio series, will probably astonish us when we are fully enlightened.
In the meantime, Happy Birthday, Ellen!

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