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My friend has died. I wrote about her not so long ago. I mentioned she was a woman who decided, on a daily basis, to live until she died.
She was a woman who constantly and consistently chose life. Now, she has life in the full and forever.
The news did not come as a shock since she had been battling cancer for the past five years. There were no tears to mark a tragic event or wringing of hands in anguish or denial, but it was still a moment of quiet sadness.
Ann is happily engaging life in heaven, I am sure, so the sorrow was initiated by my sense of loss. Ann had only gain to consider and enjoy.
From now on, nothing that happens here will escape her view and delight. She will have a unique perspective and vision of all future occurrences. There will be no more mourning or tears. No feelings of guilt or regret to mar the moments.
It is I, and all those who love her, who will feel Ann’s absence and seek memories to sustain us.
Hard on the heels of the news about Ann came another phone call about another friend. This time it was news of an impending divorce; the death of a relationship. The caller’s voice rang with anger.
She could not understand how this could be happening in a family that was already suffering many burdens. Why was our mutual friend, a person whose entire life has been other-centered, being blasted with yet another cross to carry?
“Why, God?” was her anguished plea. It was quickly followed by a demanding plea given to divinity. “Why don’t you leave her alone? She’s had enough!”
The questions hung in the air. I did not need to respond because her query was simply a cry of the heart, a faith-filled request from a faithful person who knew God was in charge.
Her faith gave her permission to express her feelings, to let her God know she was having a difficult time with life and death issues.
It is one thing to profess a doctrinal belief in the cross and resurrection. It is quite another to experience the piercing pain that precedes glory. Without the passion of Good Friday there can be no Easter Sunday. Without the power of Easter Sunday, Good Friday’s passion is an empty cross.
As if to affirm that belief, there was yet another phone call. This time I was not home to receive it. My husband was. His reaction and response was to wish his hearing impairment had been severe enough the news would have been rendered inaudible. But, he heard—and inwardly cried.
Our suffering friend had been diagnosed with leukemia. Chemotherapy will begin immediately.
No words could adequately express our mutual sadness. Nor could we give voice to our frustration and sense of powerlessness.
Surely, prayers will be said, cards will be sent, calls will be made, healing will happen. We all will offer support as we can, but curing is God’s province.
This is not news to us. We’ve heard the message many times. Perhaps, we have offered it gratuitously to others in pain.
This time, it is hitting home and hitting it hard. How do we move from an intellectual understanding of suffering to yield to the power of the cross? How do we bear that cross in companionship with our friend?
The answer is simple and profound. It is easily said and rarely lived well. What is needed is willingness to probe life as an adventure of the heart. That’s crucial. It is also a tall order, if we think we can do it alone.
With God’s grace, however, all of us can engage in a heart adventure.
I remember reading a simple secret years ago, a secret hidden in the core of “The Little Prince,” a book written by Antoine de Saint Exupery.
As the story goes, it was a secret told by a fox who said, “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. It is the time you have wasted on your rose that makes your rose so important.”
The story continued, until the little prince added: “The eyes are blind. One must look with the heart.”
Those two observations can ease the pain, relieve the suffering, without removing the acuteness that allows us to grow, to become ever more human.
They hone the spirit into a brilliant sharpness that permits us to take a second look, to see what was always there, hidden in the ordinariness of each day.
Ann lived and died as a woman who always afforded herself another view, a different perspective, a renewed vision of her environment. She suffered through the vagaries of life, not with them.
She lived an adventure of the heart until it was no longer hers.
Carol is doing the same. Graced with a heart that yearns to help those less fortunate than she, she herself is a gift that keeps on giving.
The diagnosis of leukemia is eerily prophetic. She gave until she ran out of lifeblood. Now it is her turn to be transfused and to receive what she has always offered, life.
While undergoing chemotherapy at the same hospital where her 3-year-old grandson is fighting the onslaught of stomach cancer, she tries to keep his spirits elevated by smiling through her own anguish.
She aches with her present inability to help her son through an impending divorce. All the while, she is in touch with the crucial fact her cross is also an adventure of the heart—a journey that is valuable as well as viable; one that will take her where less courageous people would be loathe to go.
I stand in awe and wonder at these two women, grateful I have been graced with their friendship.
And so I say, “Fare thee well” to one friend and “Be well” to another. I say it from the depths of my soul and with all my spirit.
I say it, not with words but with deep faith and hope, trust and love that allows me to join them on an adventure of the heart which opens our eyes to the goodness that lies deep in the bosom of life.
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master's degree in theology and is the author of, ”AWAKENING TO GOD: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives“ [a trilogy of scriptural meditations], lead chaplain at Brunswick Community Hospital, religious educator, retreat leader and lecturer.