Today, I wanted to speak about encountering the soul of Venezuela. That was my intention. this past week, my quest for an experience of that soul came to an fulfilment in the tiny town of Guasdualito on the border with Columbia. I want to talk about them and their amazing faith. But today, July 21st, another event in my past implores my attention.
4 years ago today, I was leaving my apartment, roller blades in tow. I was heading off to work. Carla, My brother’s girl friend (who shared an apartment with my brother right beneath mine) opened the door to their apartment as she saw me heading out:
“ Where are you going?” she asked a little confusedly.
“ To work” was my meek reply.
“ You sure that’s such a good idea today? I mean…”
“I have to. I can’t just stay put. I just…I gotta go…see you later”
I don’t remember the whole roller blade ride to work. I remember that on my path to work, there were something like 5 Churches, most of them Catholic. Every day on my way to work as I passed each one, I would cross myself, or say a prayer for those who needed it. This day was no different. I also remember listening to my music, and enjoying it so much more than usual that day. I think I felt like I was sharing it with her a little more. Maybe her spirit was already with me.
When I got to work, I sat down and was ready for whatever God would grant me. Was it going to be a full day of work? I knew it wasn’t. Still, I wanted it to be. I wanted life to continue. I wanted…a break. My boss knew this was going to be a hard day for me. She and I stepped out for a few minutes. We sat together. She shared with me some of her experiences (“ It’s never easy. You may even feel anger today. Don’t reject those feelings. Don’t be afraid to be emotional”) and the phone rang. I already knew it was going to be for me. 9am.
a co worker: “It’s your dad on the line for you”. Damn it. No…couldn’t we delay this just a bit more…
“ Ya dad?”
“She’s gone. Your sister just passed away. Please find a way to come down to the hospital quickly.”
33 She was 33 years old.
While many people in my family were breaking out of their usual agnosticism or atheism to blame God for this, I was angry at her for giving up so quickly. Did I have a right to be angry? Of course not, but I think my boss was right. Every emotion needs to be allowed on this day. And like my sister’s fiancé Keith, I was a little angry that she had given up her battle against Locked in Syndrome so quickly. But I let go of that anger. I don’t know if I would have the courage to face this condition either.
Keith would be suffering much more than I this day.
My sister passed away in his arms. When my parents walked into her hospital room in the palliative care ward, he was lying next to her in tears, holding on to her for dear life, even though she had not been able to hug him back for weeks because of her condition. Can I say for the record: I am so glad I went into work and missed that scene. I would have lost it. I would have completely…lost it.
A few days later, Keith (an atheist) and I were standing in my parents' kitchen, waiting for our families to congregate for one last feast in her honor…
“ Danny, you have to tell me something man, because I just don’t get it. After all that your sister has gone through for 8 years because of the cancer, and then the Locked in Syndrom at the end, all this pain that such a beautiful person experienced…how can you still believe in God?”
The bell rang as I was thinking of how to phrase my response. I never got to answer.
What would I have answered?
I could have been mean and said “ has being angry at God helped you heal?”
I could have dismissed him “ Keith, I could stand here all day explaining it to you, and you wouldn’t get it. What’s the point?”
In truth, at that time, I would not have had any answer for him…so it was for the best that the bell rang. Today, I would say that this experience helped me be more sympathetic to everyone else who goes through this kind of loss and pain. People have told me that they appreciate the expressiveness in my face when they share about losing their parents or siblings, that it’s almost as if I was sharing the pain with them. I can honestly think of no better way of being Christocentric, of being loving to all…but I can’t do that without God.
That’s why I believe Keith…that’s why.
But I still miss her so much.