Wednesday, April 23, 2014

In the Midst of Life

About 2 1/2 weeks ago, a man came to the door of the parish office to set up a time to meet with us about his father's funeral. The man himself wasn't young, he was 6 years older than I, and he had to use a cane. It wasn't just for balance. It obviously caused him some pain to walk, but he didn't seem to let it bother him at all.

Most of us have had the experience of losing someone in our family, or someone we dearly love, to death. We suddenly find ourselves along with other family members in another place, a sort of anteroom to death. Our loved one has gone into the next room, and we're not going quite yet, but we can't go back to our everyday world, either. It doesn't matter where we go, we take our little limbo with us. We may be surrounded by other people, but no matter how glad we are to see them, and how kind they are, they are outside. They're going back to their jobs and their homes where things are more or less normal, and we have to wait out our confinement. And once or twice a month, a family moves their little waiting room into the conference room at our office.

Every family has its own way of dealing with death. Sometimes, there will be ten or more people in the room, squabbling over the songs and readings. Others are very quiet and want us to make all the decisions for them. Many times, people want to tell us about the deceased. Sometimes I feel quite fond of these people by the time they leave.

Junior, I'm going to call him that because he had the exact same name as his deceased father, was very upbeat. He told me he would talk my ear off if I gave him half a chance, and I did, and he did. His sister was quiet and seemed to want to just get through the day, but Junior wanted to tell us about his dad--and himself. Even though he was physically weak, he seemed to be bursting with life.

Yesterday when I got to work, as soon as I got in the building, my co-worker told me that Junior had died from a massive heart attack on Saturday. I was stunned. It's hard for me to imagine that radiant man dead. His funeral will be Friday, 18 days after his father's. The family wants everything to be the same as it was at the first funeral, so in a sense, Junior planned his own funeral. I was the lector then, so I will be the lector again. I think it's going to be hard.

One of the reasons I'm writing about this is because it has made me so aware that the person I am talking to at the moment might be gone tomorrow, and I think this is something I need to consider seriously. I'm not talking about the fact that I need to keep my own death in mind, which of course I do, but that I have to be aware of how important it is to be about my Father's business--to be aware of why that person I'm talking to has been sent into my life.

Most of you who are reading this have probably read C. S. Lewis's, The Weight of Glory, and are familiar with this quote:
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.
 How to do this? Of course, that is the question. Badly, might be the answer. But every morning (almost every morning) I pray that everyone who comes into contact with me somehow touches Jesus instead of me and that I will try to see Him in everyone.

To show you how easy this is for me, I was writing this post in my head on the way to the dentist office this morning and as soon as I walked in the door, I was miffed because the small waiting room was full, and because even though I had the first appointment I had to wait, and because some of the people were irritating. Still, I plod along. I tell myself, "Love those people. Love that woman who is texting on the interstate, love that inefficient waitress, that person who hurt your feelings, that man that comes to door asking for gas money who you KNOW is lying to you." Sometimes I can even do it.


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