This morning while I was getting ready for work, some random train of thought led me to think about my friend Amanda. I first met Amanda on a homeschool listserv when she noticed that I mentioned that I lived in Memphis. She posted a message saying that she and her husband had once lived there too, in fact, she lived about half a mile from our house. We might have passed each other in the store a hundred times. We didn't strike up a friendship at that time, though. She was just one of many people on the list who commented occasionally. Then one weekend, I had a table at a homeschool conference in her city selling books for a company that republishes older children's books, and she introduced herself. She was very nice, and we talked a bit, but not much.
The next year, though, when I was planning on going back to the conference, she invited us (my husband, daughter, and I) to stay at her house, and that was when our friendship really began. This was sometime in 1999. Then once we just happened to go on the same retreat at Casa Maria. She and her roommate had thought it was going to be a silent retreat, and so they planned on being silent for the weekend anyway, but Amanda and I ended up talking quite a bit. Eventually, I visited her home twice more: once alone and once with my family. So in all we only met in person five times, but we emailed and were on other homeschool lists together and became close friends.
I remember my solo visit very well. I spent marathon sessions sitting at her kitchen table while she told me the story of her life. I don't remember much about her childhood other than the fact that her father had died when she was about 8 or 9 and at some point her mother had married a man of whom Amanda seemed to be fond. I also don't remember if their protestant faith had been very important to her parents, I think not, but certainly by the time she reached college in the late 60s and 70s, it had fallen by the wayside.
If I recall correctly Amanda and her husband met when she went to another city with friends to hear his band play. They married, and then divorced when she became infatuated with another man who turned out to be a very bad choice since he often beat her and threatened to kill her. After she had left this man, she started to go church, and then found that her husband had had a reawakening of his faith also. Soon, they remarried and began their Christian life together. This isn't the “they lived happily ever after” part, however, since the church they joined was a large, Christian, anti-Catholic cult that had very tight control over the members' lives. For one thing, they were encouraged not to have children because, I think, the group thought it was near the end of times.
But when the leaders of the group decided that they would have children, Amanda and her husband, who were already a bit disenchanted, decided it was time to leave. They joined a mainline protestant church, but somewhere or other some seeds of interest in the Catholic Church had been planted in Amanda. She got a job as copy editor of a pretty popular Catholic magazine, and soon she, and then her husband and three children entered the Church.
One of these seeds that I mentioned is the reason for the picture above, and really, for this entire post. Back when Amanda was living with the abuser, he would beat her to a pulp and then drop her off at the Catholic cathedral and tell her to pray to change the things about herself that made him beat her. At that time there was in the cathedral a shrine to Our Mother of Good Counsel. My high school was part of the parish school for the cathedral and I was often there, but, although I was certainly aware of the shrine, I don't think I ever knew to whom it was dedicated. I remember it as being a four foot hill of some dark stone with a picture in the middle. It was far more than that to Amanda. She used to sit in front of the shrine, and cry, and pray. I don't know exactly what she prayed for, but I know she believed that it was Our Lady that brought her out of the darkness. I frequently pray the Litany of Loretto, and now, whenever I get to Mater Boni Consilii, ora pro nobis, I pray for the repose of Amanda's soul.
When I had known Amanda for a couple of years, she discovered that she had skin cancer, and was treated, and was in remission for quite some time, but eventually the cancer returned and spread rapidly. Knowing that she would die soon, I had planned to visit her on Thanksgiving weekend, but I had a medical problem and didn't get to go. Since I had only been in my job for a short time, I knew I wouldn't have any more time off to visit before she died, but I wrote and asked her to call if she was ever feeling well enough, and one day she did.
It was a great talk, and it was awesome in the true sense of the word. We talked about several things, some of which I remember, but what I remember most is my profound awareness that I was talking to someone who was very, very close to that other existence that awaits us all. In a few weeks, or a few days she would be there. That line of demarcation was so real and so exciting. I've been around other people, family and friends, who were about to die, but this is the only time I ever had such a vivid awareness of Heaven weighing heavily on us, and waiting for us.
Amanda died a couple of days after Christmas. I couldn't go to her funeral, and though I was sad about that at the time, it wasn't really important. We had had the important conversation, and we had said goodbye in peace.
What always comes back to me, though, is that moment of conversion, that season of sorrow when the mother of God reached out to Amanda and drew her into the family. On the face of things, those days when she was so crushed in body and soul appear to be the darkest of nights, but in reality they were the dawn of grace.
Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine on Amanda and on all the souls of the faithful departed. Amen.
Amanda isn't my friend's real name, and even though I doubt anyone in her family will ever see this, I want to guard their privacy.